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Johnny Unusual

The King of Nice

It's interesting that in daytime and late night talk show TV, some of the people who appear as the most wholesome, friendly alternatives have toxic work environments. Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden I must assume (he seems like he kind of sucks in other ways, I just assume his talk show is a nightmare behind the scenes). In some cases, I think these are just toxic people, in others, I think they are people who simply don't want to acknowledge what's happening and look the other way, which is also pretty bad. I know there are nice people in the world and I can understand wanting to see a charismatic one 5 days a week but it always hurts when it turns out the people who are making the stuff we loved are treated terribly.

In this episode, Krusty learns he can make big bucks on daytime TV with minimal effort and works with Lindsay Nagel as producer to create his own talk show. During a focus group meeting Marge impresses Lindsay so much with her ideas that she's immediately hired as segment producer. At first Marge loves coming up with ideas for a "nice" show but Lindsay's physically and emotionally abusive nature runs riot through the set. Even Marge isn't immune and eventually the stress causes her to have a bit of toxicity in her. The family and her friends try to hold an intervention but Marge doesn't want to hear it and storms off to work on the show when it is revealed that the toxic work environment has been exposed. Everyone works all night to produce Krusty's apology episode but when Marge shows over a crew worker she sees how toxic she's become. She interrupts Krusty's show to announce the problem isn't him, it's the daytime TV system but Krusty, after a brief phone call, claims the problem is entirely on his shoulders and quits the show. Marge tries to convince him it wasn't his fault but Krusty reveals he doesn't care; he only did it because an even better opportunity came along. But with no show, Marge finally feels free.

The King of Nice is a solid outing for the show. I wasn't happy with Jessica Conrad's last episode but I feel like in this one she is doing a much better job with a Marge story. Marge stories tend to be about the fact that she's a good or nice person but either has her goodness threatened or it runs into a situation that it would seem it cannot solve. This story is more the former, where Marge just gets into a job to make people happy and do nice things but the toxicity of Lindsay Nagel spills all over everyone and even Marge becomes shitty and a nervous wreck. There are lots of episodes about how Marge becomes a monster and then pulls back at the last moment and this episode is about how monsters are created by two things; monsters and negligence.

Obviously, Lindsay is the monster here and negligence is represented by Krusty. It would be easy to make him the toxic force. Heck, he usually is on his own show (a fact the episode notes). Krusty instead is just enjoying his low effort job and constantly marvels about how easy it is and is so hands off with the show that he doesn't notice that Lindsay is abusing the workers. But it is damning that when he learns, he decides to dump off a empty gesture apology and then takes the blame only when it will cost him something. Marge works hard to see that the problem is bigger than him even in the end and it's a good point but it's clear Krusty is the kind of person to let it happen and just would rather remain ignorant if possible. It's his show and he doesn't know what's happening and doesn't care.

Now Jessica Conrad hasn't worked on a daily talk show but she has worked on Saturday Night Live, a program that certainly has not without backstage drama and is famous for being a real stressful grind. Heck, Lorne Michaels has a fairly predatory contract that allows him to profit from his performers work up to 5 years after they leave the show. I would not be surprised if this was at least a partial inspiration for this episode. I think this episode definitely makes more of an impact than One Angry Lisa and it feels like while in both she had something interesting to say, this pans out a lot better and has a few great jokes to boot.

Other great jokes:

"We're just worried about you, Marge, Look, even your best friend Luann is here."
"Best friend?"
"Oh, we haven't had the conversation yet, but it's unspoken."
Oh, Luann, this is some real Milhouse vibes.

I like the bit where everyone at the intervention isn't sure what to do without Marge.

Other notes:
It's funny Drew Berrymore guests in a cameo considering how she really fucked up during the strike.

Johnny Unusual

Not It

The Simpsons Halloween specials used to be a big treat to me and even when I quit the show, I still watched them. Yet, I've also gotten more frustrated with them. I don't need to hold them up to the same standards as a regular episode because mostly we are talking short parody or high concept stories that even more than usual are laugh vehicles yet in almost every capacity in the last decade, these shorts have mostly been weak. One exception is the only canonical Halloween episode, the straight up great Halloween of Horror, a story that's funny but more than that creates a great Lisa/Homer tale about being vulnerable. 2022 introduced the second year a full length Halloween adventure came out...

In a parody of Stephen King's It, Homer is a boy living in the small town of Kingfield. While being threatened by a cruel bully, Homer sees a terrifying looking clown lurking in the bushes. He's saved from the bullies by the Loser's Club, a group of similarly outcast kids that includes Moe, Carl, Comic Book Guy and Marge. Homer explains what he's seen and the others confess to having seen the clown, each of whom have been threatened and scared by him. The kids decide for their safety to research him and learn the clown, Krusto, has appeared every 27 years alongside a rash of child disappearances. Meanwhile, Homer falls for Marge and writes her an anonymous love note, which is found by Comic Book Guy, who also loves Marge. Krusto arrives to threaten the kids but they decide to take the fight to him. They fair poorly until Krusto slips on some marbles and the kids laugh at his pratfall. For the first time Krusto gets a real laugh and the kids goad him on to keep injuring himself for laughs until he is nearly destroyed. Krusto escapes and the kids vow to return in 27 years to finish the job. Meanwhile, Marge finds Homer's love note... now signed by Comic Book Guy and she falls for him. 27 years later, Homer is a sadsack bartender and everyone else is a huge success. When Krusto returns, Homer calls everyone to return but Comic Book Guy, now married to Marge, is adamant that he and Marge don't need to return. Marge goes without him and Comic Book Guy reluctantly joins, bringing their kids Bert and Lizzie. The children are kidnapped by Krusto to lead the Loser's Club into a trap, where Krusto reveals the souls of the children he murdered are now his eternal audience, forced to laugh to empower him. Krusto reveals Comic Book Guy's dark secret but sacrifices himself to allow Marge to break the curse on the children's ghosts, causing Krusto to disappear into oblivion. With Krusto defeated, the Loser's Club is ready to move on with their lives and Homer and Marge are together.

I was not looking forward to the two Halloween 2022 specials when I first saw them. But after I did, I was very impressed. Yes, it is a parody of It but more than that, it's a fully realized episode on it's own that is invested in it's characters and narrative as opposed to a Mad Magazine-style speed run with sarcastic commentary. Cesar Mazariegos is the writer for this one and I think he's allowed us to feel invested in this non-canonical story, even more than others. Which makes sense because even the "canonical" episodes are barely canonical half the time so we should be invested in this as we should anything else. It's fun, yes, and it clearly has an affection for the source material but beyond that, I am excited and surprised by some of the plot turns and differences and there is a bit of actual suspense and creepiness (though, to give away my take on the next episode. Treehouse of XXXIII has an advantage over it in that department).

I think I realized it was successful when it reminded me of another series that mixes comedy and horror in a fun, poppy way, the 2010s series Gravity Falls. In fact, I feel like the climax of the episode, except of the part where Comic Book Guy is bleeding profusely, could easily have been slotted into the last act of a Gravity Falls episode. This is a compliment because Gravity Falls, a show heavily inspired by the Simpsons, is great at mixing very silly comedy with creepy threats and characters that we root for. And that's the way I feel here. I think a lot of the decisions it makes are fun but also make narrative sense both with what we know of the characters within the episode and in the bigger Simpsons tapestry. Of course Krusty/Krusto would destroy himself if he actually got a genuine laugh and of course Krusty/Krusto would be just as satisfied forcing people to laugh at him. It's the kind of elements you realize the writer isn't just slotting the Simpsons into a parody, he's showing what this story looks and feels like in the Simpsons world and how these particular characters being in it would affect the narrative.

It is one of the most successful horror films of all time and with good cause; there are better ones but the film is genuinely scary but also works as an adventure film. King is so good at coming up with truly horrifying ideas. I don't mean his monsters, I mean his willingness to go places I feel like even he would rather not, especially child death, because horror is about going to those uncomfortable places sometimes. And yet, he also is great at making his stories really digestible for a mainstream audience even when the message is horror can lie in the mundane (most King supernatural stories have an awful human who merely takes advantage of the more fantastical horror and is awful in a way that's easy to see in the real world). Similarly the Simpsons is a show about the evil of our systems and authorities so it makes sense to put them together. And thankfully, it comes together really well in this case. After I watched this, I raved about it on the TT discord and a few people told me "Yeah, the show is actually good now." Seeing it made me hopeful. After years of bad Simpsons and a determinedness to find diamonds in the rough, there was a promised land. It's not always perfected, but the show really is in a better place now. And it's a place on Earth.

Other great jokes:
"Ah, super-intense kid Chalmers!"

"Creepy clown! Go get help!"

"The clown knew my greatest fear.. drowning in seltzer."

"I don't want to be buried in a kid coffin! They cost the same an adult's. I heard my parents pricin' 'em."

"We're still alive. Somebody pinch me!"
"Somebody slap me. Anyone of you. I don't care."


Oh, the banners are back!


The Sinking Boat version of the Simpsons boat painting is a nice touch but the Crypto poster speaks volumes about how Homer's life is going.

"So how's it been?"
"So good. I practically live on Reddit."
Oooooh nooooo

"Now it's personal.... just like it always was!"

"He must get his sinister powers from his captive audience."
"Just like Jimmy Fallon."
It's an easy joke but it's apt.

"Let's go up to heaven and bask in the glory of God's stupid love."

Other notes:
The animators are going to town on the Krusto slapsticks himself scene.

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXXIII

Another year, another spooky episode.

In this episode, three more tales of terror. First, in a parody of the Babadook, Marge reads Maggie a bedtime story that turns out to be very scary. Marge tries to get rid of the book but instead the book controls her and tries to make her kill Maggie, using her years of resentment towards her family. Maggie tries to fight back but only frees Marge by touching her cheek. Marge is restored and her ability to swallow resentment allows her to control the book. In the second tale, a parody of Death Note, Lisa finds a supernatural book that allows her to kill people by writing down their names. Lisa is followed by a Shinigami who tells her how it works and taunts her as Lisa decides to use it to kill Mr. Burns and all the top members of his company who are planning on melting the polar ice caps. Eventually Bart finds out the truth but rather than kill her brother, Lisa kills Steve Johnson, though is cursed into being a shinigami herself. In the final tale, Homer learns he is just one of many Simpsons robots in a Simpsons-themed amusement park. The family makes a harrowing escape from their masters, finding shelter in a Bob's Burgers amusement park.

This is easily the best Halloween episode in years and in general might be among the best episodes of the last couple seasons. That's very rare for an anthology show to hit so well; usually the Simpsons struggles with short format story-telling, even as a joke machine. Often they choose movies or shows that just need too much plot unpacking and it gets unwieldy. But every one of these are bangers. The first one is the scariest, like actually surprisingly tense for a Simpsons episode. The Carolyn Omine-written parody uses the premise of the original film to explore Marge's hidden resentments and what keeps her going; a little bit of love. It actually doesn't show this hand until the latter half but it really works when Maggie is scrambling to find something to help Marge and she just sees more evidence that she is right to be upset. It's the simple act of a cheek touch that works and it is a very effective little moment (even better if you notice that is what Marge does for Maggie, an act the episode doesn't call attention to). I also appreciate that Maggie, so often seen as a badass sharpshooter even in the canonical episodes really does feel vulnerable here, even when fighting back, really adding to the tension and giving a genuine sense of unease. Omine knows how to get an actual thrill here and it makes the happy, sweet ending all the richer for it.

The second tale is probably my least favourite but it is still REALLY good. The animation is by DR Movie, the Korean studio that helped on the original Death Note and it really is a perfect combination of the over-the-top style of Death Note and the wacky world of the Simpsons. So many parody of anime within Western animation are either off or something is missing but this is very successful, based on large part not just being "anime" but one specific series. Ryan Koh's script is really fun, too and even though he's got to breeze through a lot of plot, he does it effectively and humourously. I really did like Death Note back in the day (I imagine it wouldn't be as much fun now) and I think Koh, while lacking in the twisty clever cat-and-mouse stuff, gets what the merging of the two series would look like.

The last story, written by Matt Selman, is probably my favourite. I think it would have been so easy just to do memes and callbacks and there are a LOT in here but I think there's also a more going on here. It's an existentialist adventure where the characters essentially must escape their corporate overlords and break out of simply being memes. And it's also very visually clever and has some good lines. Not even just funny ones but the kind that just sing, like when Marge runs over a bunch of tourists and Lisa objects that they are "real", Marge responds "So are we!" I think the show has been sometimes lazy about regurgitating itself and it's own cultural impact but this is a case where all of that stuff is effective, kind of unsettling (in a funny way) and leads to a fun final escape.

The acting and writing are top notch but I feel like I don't give enough credit to the directors often enough but Rob Oliver is killing it here, making sure each story is very well-directed with it's own flavour. The first one is tense and relatively grounded in style, the second one is a great mockery of the over-the-top operaticness of Death Note and the third manages to mirror the past while not feeling like a re-hash. Overall, not only is this one of my favourite episodes of this season so far, this silly anthology episode might be among my favourites for the last decade and was the one that got me REALLY excited to getting to this stage of the series.

Other great jokes
"Bart and I are building a dojo. Oh, we should use this to chop up the lawn furniture."

"We got to wake up the rest of the family and get the Hell out of here. Now help me pick out the hottest Marge!"

Other notes:
Oh, I never noticed last time the episode has a theme; books. The framing device is a book, the first two stories are about books and in the last one the robots are controlled with a tablet that opens and closes like a book.

Johnny Unusual

From Beer to Paternity

If there's a Simpsons formula that's remained one of the most enduring, it's Homer disappointing his daughter. After all, Homer loves his daughter but they don't share a lot of interests and Homer tends to be pretty selfish. I feel like after the golden age, they made Lisa a little too cynical in regards to Homer, around the time Homer was often in jerk-ass mode. But when done well, these stories can still work. Now, like "Homer and Marge's marriage is going to be ruined", it's hard to take some stakes quite as seriously on the 75th go-round but all the same, I think the resolution can make it work.

In this episode, Duff is looking for a new mascot and for Duffman to keep his job he'd got to win the fan-vote. but despite campaigning, Duffman is in dead last, a situation made worse by a series of sexist faux pas. In a desperate effort to save face, he claims he's a dad to a daughter and therefore not sexist... while showing a photo of him and Lisa during a fan event Homer took Lisa to years earlier. Lisa and Homer go to see Duffman to tell him to cut it out and he reveals he does have a daughter but they were estranged 24 years ago. Duffman is impressed by Homer and Lisa's bond and asks Homer to teach her to be a better dad and inspires him to see his daughter. But Duffman is afraid and asks Homer to come with him and to bring Lisa, too. Homer convinces Lisa to go and as an incentive they will also visit the Agatha Christie museum. However, along the way Duffman gets a call telling him to try to get his face out there at a mascot convention. This causes Lisa to miss her chance to see the museum and realizes Homer is barely interested in doing her thing, he just wants to hang out with Duffman. Duffman decides Homer is in fact a poor role model and decides to finish the journey solo. On the way, Lisa finds a picture his daughter drew that he kept for 24 years and decide to deliver it to her to help the two re-unite but when they meet Duffman's daughter, Duffman stood her up to party with the other people in her building. Duffman tries to reconnect and ends up saving her and though he proves still lacking a lot in understanding feminism, he wants to try to connect with his daughter again, to the point of quitting his role as Duffman and becoming his daughter's mascot for her weed paraphernalia store.

It's a big ask for me to be excited about a Duffman episode, not because I dislike the character but because he's a character who is designed to be somewhat one-note. In theory, this is an episode that could be done with other celebrity characters except most of them already have daughters, estranged or otherwise (Reiner Wolfecastle, Krusty the Clown, Kent Brockman), And I won't say From Beer Till Paternity is a particularly strong episode but it isn't a weak episode either. Despite the broadness of his character, Hank Azaria is trying to do a lot with the character, switching from manic pitchman to world weary and sad. It doesn't make me excited for the possibility of another Duffman episode but it's probably a better outcome than I would have expected.

On the weaker end, the Homer/Lisa strife is one I feel I've seen so many times that it brought little new to the table. Once again, Homer prioritized his own interests above his daughter and has too see exactly how little of a man he really is. Like Duffman, Smith and Castellaneta are still great all these years later but I feel like in general this doesn't get us a particularly new angle on the dynamics of these characters. I feel like in recent years the show has been hesitant to make Homer really selfish because I think they've burned themselves a lot with jerkass Homer and are prepared to let him evolve a bit and be a better man at the risk of not being as much of a fuck-up as he once was. This episode actually feels a lot more old school where Homer is a jerk but it never crosses the line were we hate him, even though Lisa's right to be angry at his selfishness and it feels like Christine Nangle gets the balance.

In other more positive angles, Nangle does well lacing in both subtle and very unsubtle ways that while Duffman means well, he and Homer are completely unaware of their own ignorance with both patting Homer on the back for any good thing Lisa does. Homer's been a sexist buffoon before but I think this works well with the premise of the episode where Duffman and Homer use women in their lives as props to boost their own sense of self with little regard for who these people are. Along with the good jokes, I think this manages to do a lot of the heavy lifting in an episode following a well-worn formula and acting as sort of the engine of the characters adventure and personal failings. Overall, this is a Duffman episode that is just OK but still works far better than I would have expected from a Duffman episode.

Other great jokes:
"So if your daughter writes an angry book about you, don't self publish your rebuttal book."

Johnny Unusual

Step Brother from the Same Planet

Seeing my dad now and comparing him to the man he was in my youth is an interesting thing. Sometimes I wonder if how much of this is him changing, as we all do, and how much is stuff I just never noticed about him. I wouldn't call him a strict father but he wasn't overly lenient either but as a grandfather, as grandfathers will do, he often is pretty willing to let his grandkids get away with some stuff that I would never imagine he would as a father. These are different roles after all. But if he was a father again? I couldn't begin to imagine what that would look like.

In this episode, Abe is seeing a new woman, Blythe, who has a 11 year-old son named Calvin. Calvin is a bit odd with niche interests like taxidermy and Homer is jealous when he sees how well Grandpa treats Calvin. When it is discovered Homer is allergic to the new wax Marge has been treating the wood in the house with, Homer now must stay with Grandpa, who has moved in with Blythe, and Homer must share a bedroom with Calvin. Calvin tries to make friends but Homer is extremely hostile to him until they begin a rivalry that leads to a full on prank war. When grandpa, temporarily blinded by his glaucoma-treating eyedrops, wanders into their shared bedroom and mistakes Homer for Calvin, treating him with kindness, Homer is forced to think, no longer taking his hurt feelings out on Calvin. When Calvin sees Homer bummed out, Homer admits his jealousy is based on the fact that while he was a weird kid too, Grandpa treated him anger and, using grandpa's blindness, shows Calvin the vitriol he's had to absorb through his life. Homer feels there are no words so Calvin inspires Homer to try art. At a taxidermy show, Homer show's grandpa some googly eyes attached to a couple of shells he's made and Grandpa, after struggling, manages to understand Homer's feelings. Grandpa admits he took his frustrations out on Homer because he felt raising Homer was the end of his youth and now as an old man that looking after Calvin was salvaging the last vestige of it. Grandpa and Homer reconcile, though not long after Blythe and Grandpa end up breaking up for personal reasons.

Step Brother from the Same Planet is a pretty strong episode. I feel like we've seen this sort of formula before with Homer dealing with the fact that Grandpa finds someone to give love that he denied Homer. And yet, despite that, the episode actually manages to treat this element with a surprising amount of weight, the kind you don't foresee when it's, like, the 10th time a similar plot has been done. This is because Dan Vebber manages to find some unique angles to a played out plot. And that it is also pretty funny. Yeah, there's some actual emotion to this episode and it even manages to dovetail it with comedy well. Having to wring an actual emotional epiphany from the poorly crafted googly eyed shells is pretty funny juxtaposition.


But while Homer does some shitty stuff to poor Calvin, the harshest thing he does is let Grandpa tear into him so he can understand what he's had to endure. It's an effective moment for the show and I think the two scenes of Grandpa confusion both hurt these characters but give them a richer understanding of the other and re-align their priorities from revenge to communication. The show never really let's grandpa off the hook. Even when Grandpa explains his reason, Homer lovingly points out his explanation is completely selfish. It gives us more insight into Abe but doesn't make anything he does forgivable to the audience. Yet Homer is able to, or at least feels he can talk honestly with his dad about it for once, in a loving way.

I think this season has had better episodes but appreciate when the show can still have a surprising amount of power to it's characters, even when playing with a very old story structures. And there are some imperfections; Lisa's b-story isn't bad but it's another one that is playing with a well-worn idea (Lisa is no fun, decides to be fun, popularity gets the better of her). I could see it working as a full episode though, as a lot of the half-baked b-plots on this show could be. Still, I feel like if this represents an also-ran episode, this is a very strong version of that. There's a kind of mid-tier episode where it isn't breaking comedic ground but just strong in all the well-worn ways that this show does sometimes but I want these kinds of episodes with more consistency. And I feel like in this era, the general episode quality consistency is thankfully getting higher.

Other great jokes:

"I prefer it not stare into my soul like it knows my sins."

"Oh, so what you're saying is, no matter how old you are, it's all about what you need."
"You finally get me!"

Other notes:
BTW, Melissa McCarthy and Carol Kane were both in this episode. Both good gets.

Johnny Unusual

When Nelson Met Lisa

The Simpsons future episodes are a tradition that began with Lisa's Wedding, a true classic of an episode that reminds us that despite everything, Lisa loves her daddy. It's a well the show has returned to, generally with diminishing returns. Holidays of Future Passed was surprisingly strong but even that held up a little less for me on rewatch. But it's understandable why the show drifts to a future it will never see. The kids are eternally the same age (though weirdly Homer and Marge slowly aged up by almost a decade over the course of the show) and the show only has a certain set amount of continuity. So there's plenty of room for the writers to wonder about where these kids would end up. Sometimes it's pathetic, sometimes it's hopeful. And too many times, Lisa ends up with Milhouse. *shudder*

In this episode, Lisa is about to graduate college and Lisa re-unites with Nelson, not living in the town where Lisa goes to college. As they talk, they start to feel a romantic pull and spend the night talking but the next day, after Lisa graduates, she decides she can't see a future where they make each other happy and leaves town. 5 years later Lisa is married to techbro and former academic rival Hubert Wong when they run into Nelson on a train, now a bounty hunter married to a fellow hunter named Rott. Nelson, Lisa, Rott and Hubert start talking and when Hubert and Nelson are alone, Hubert, still bitter about being bullied, uses his time to needle Nelson about his past. Nelson wedgies him and Lisa is appalled. 5 years later, Nelson and Lisa meet again, both separated from their partners. They start to consider seeing each other regularly but Hubert shows up, contrite and apologetic, promising Lisa a lot if she takes him back. Rather than fight for her, Nelson tells her to follow her heart. She goes with Hubert. 4 months later, the two meet at Jimbo and Sophie's wedding. Nelson is feeling rough about his decision and flees and Lisa, who has decided she cares about him, decides she wants to be with him and the two get together.

A When Harry Met Sally parody with Nelson and Lisa sounds like an episode I'd completely pan from a decade prior. So how is it today?... Fine. It's just fine. It's not an episode I want, really, but it's actually not bad. Frankly, I was completely over the show's weird obsession with the romantic lives of the Simpsons kids, who are 8 and 10, that was happening in the 2010s. Look there are good episodes about the kids' crushes and there's nothing wrong with that but it's not even just the volume. It was Lisa going steady with Milhouse, or Bart having an on-again/off-again girlfriend. It was the weird obsession with putting them in classic romances. There's something about the trope of "here's an adult thing with kids so we turn references to drinking win with drinking apple juice or something like that" where it rarely clicks with me. I found the whole thing tiresome. And that spilled into the future episodes, where the show seemed really into the idea that Lisa ends up with Milhouse and it's the saddest fucking thing.

So what does this episode do right? Well, nothing in particular. It's just more that it doesn't really do anything wrong. I loved "Lisa's Date with Density" from back in the day but I never felt a need to have it extend to beyond that episode. Still, at least here there's a theme of missed opportunities that made sense to miss in the moment but fill the characters with a turmoil in their hearts. And there are good jokes in the episode and I feel like writer Ryan Koh isn't just satisfied with the episode being a When Harry Met Sally with Simpsons characters popped in and wants to take their emotional journey seriously.

But while the characters are written fairly well... I still don't really care that much. Again, this isn't a badly written episode but it also isn't taking me to a place where I'm invested in these characters FINALLY getting together. It's not making me more excited for more romantic futuristic episodes either. Instead, like the flashback episodes, the future episodes that began as interesting outliers have become also-rans and not that interesting. Hey, the show already has a ton of out of continuity episodes per season now (like almost a quarter of them?) and while I feel like it shouldn't matter as much in a show that isn't continuity-heavy but for some reason that does bother me, even though two of them from this season were VERY good. But this one, while not bad, also just isn't that interesting to me.

Other great jokes:

"She's up there talking to the kid who used to beat me up all the time."
"The vest one or the hat one?"
"The vest one."
"Always liked that kid."

"Now that we're moving to the big city, I'm going to give you some advice. The police horses will NOT share their oats."

"If I'm a simulation, why am I so lonely? Who does that benefit?"

Johnny Unusual

Game Done Changed

I work with kids in my job and that means talking with them. Sometimes, I think of myself, despite being 41 as a fan of things for the child demographic but talking with kids I realize how out of the loop I am. They play Roblox and watch Mr. Beast videos and I only have the vaguest notion of what those things are. But I know enough about Roblox and modern gaming in general to realize that a lot of games aimed at kids are pretty predatory. It is really unsettling but it's not new, just streamlined. I mean, think about the old 1-900 numbers of old where you need "parent's permission" to call. But now there are even fewer hoops to jump through to make kids buy shit they don't technically own for a "free" game.

In this episode, Bart is playing the online game Boblox with Milhouse and discovers that the game glitches on old computers so that if a mohawk haircut is sold, then it immediately creates another one on the seller. Bart realizes the school is full of old computers and creates a money farm, exploiting the glitch to make real world dollars from the in-game currency. When Skinner finds out, Bart talks him into joining forces to save the crumbling school with a victimless crime. Skinner dreams of turning the school into a no-grading/testing art school and agrees. Bart and Skinner's criminal enterprise turns out to be a huge success until they face competition; a rival gang from a Montessori school. Bart and the rival gang are happy to make a deal but Skinner refuses and and when Bart complains, Skinner ousts him. Skinner's gang is losing the online war so Skinner decides to attack the school in the real world, targeting their computer lab with a bulldozer. Bart arrives to talk him down, telling him the time they spent together allowed Bart to see Skinner as a person. Skinner acquiesces and the two walk with Skinner deciding he doesn't want to live in a fantasy world anymore.

Hey it's the second Ryan Koh episode in a row. And I like this one a lot better. I think watching so many together, it makes me think about my opinions of him as a writer on the show and I feel like they are generally quite positive but at the same time, I feel like every time I watch one... it's not so much there's an overt problem with any of them but I feel like there's one or two elements that keep them from being pushed over the top from good episode to great one. I think the small missing piece is here is I wish we had more Skinner/Bart bonding to make the last scene more resonant. As it is, it's a pretty fun episode that cribs from crime pictures and Breaking Bad (less style and more the Skinner/Bart relationship) to tell it's own very fun story.

I think one of the strengths for Koh is, especially in this episode, he does have some really fun ideas. My favourite being a hilarious exaggeration of Montessori being student lead learning turning into children being encouraged to pursue criminal endeavors and running the school like a racket while also being extremely empathetic. I think in the wrong, very stupid hands this could look like an indictment of Montessori or empathetic teaching but it's more just a hilarious wild premise rather than a misfired South Park-like "take" on "the kids today." Interestingly, it feels like it also would have been easy to turn this into a commentary on the predatory nature of these games themselves, either by having Boblox come across as far more evil than the Springfield Elementary gang or having Springfield be a metaphor. Instead, while there are allusions to it, Boblox is more a of a neutral force in the episode that allows people to do harm to themselves (such as the B-plot where all of the Simpsons find themselves lost in the game). I would be happy with an episode about the evil of games like Roblox but frankly, its OK the episode goes somewhere else.

But that brings me to my one quibble. It is a very fun, creative episode but the heart of it is Skinner's corruption and I feel like I'm less into Bart's turn when I really didn't see him start to empathize with Skinner in the episode. When he does at the beginning, that's less because he thinks he's doing Skinner a favour and more just conning him into helping. Skinner's Walter White-like unhinging is where the episode cooks and it's a fun area and overall the episode is funny but I think the final scene drives home that while this is a funny episode, it was actually pretty close to doing more. All the same, Game Done Changed is a very fine episode and Ryan Koh continues to make episodes that are... 7.5 out of 10s. Not perfect but still pretty good for late-game Simpsons (especially so consistently).

Other great jokes:
"Do you like your new game, Bart?"
"Do you want to stop playing?"
"Perfect, right in the video game sweet spot."

"Those aren't groundskeepers, they're parent volunteers. Pay for tuition and work for free. What a racket."

"Um, well 'can't' is a word we don't use here. We also can't say 'don't'. We just can't."

"But Josh Gad."
"Josh Gad is not real. He never was."

Other notes:
I know Harry Shearer is a good singer but Skinner's music number here doesn't quite work. I wonder if it's the limitation of the character voice alongside the kind of song.

I hope the show uses child tubers Astrid and French Fry again. It's a funny and effective way to skim through some plot stuff.

Johnny Unusual

Top Goon

The Simpsons is a show with a wide range of characters to play with, from Abraham Simpson to Artie Ziff (if you must but please don't). And sometimes that means leaving the Simpsons behind for a bit to focus on these other characters. Often we get to see characters connect with the Simpsons in surprising ways and having them see value in each other. And with so many, there is still a lot of story potential within the series. For example, it turns out we've never really had a Nelson/Moe episode. Do we need one? Let's find out.

In this episode, Moe is being annoyed by King Toot about the winning hockey team he coaches so Moe decides to coach Bart's team. Bart is the only good player but even he is overwhelmed by Toots' team of goons and Moe realizes his team needs muscle. Soon he finds it in Nelson Muntz, who he invites to play. Nelson agrees when he sees that both he and Moe are "scuzzes" and Moe quickly finds Nelson to be a very useful player. Nelson, meanwhile, soon admires Moe and seeks his approval. After some real training, Nelson becomes unstoppable, allowing Bart to score goal after goal. When Moe chooses calling Nelson an MVP over Bart, Bart starts talking behind his back, which upsets Nelson so much he breaks Bart's arm. Moe is enraged and throws Nelson off the team. When Moe realizes Nelson did what he did because he was seeking his approval, Moe decides to track him down while Nelson, feeling he can only be muscle, decides to start working for Fat Tony now rather than wait until adulthood. Nelson is given a chance to beat up King Toot for not paying the mob back their loan but Moe stops him, apologizing to Nelson for treating him like a tool rather than a person.

Joel H. Coen falls into a lot of long time Simpsons writers who generally I find write some of the weaker episodes but Top Goon is a pretty good one. A Nelson/Moe episode might seem odd but Coen finds it makes perfect sense; both are the underclass, too rough and uncouth for the world around them, which also makes them lonely and needy. But the difference is the power dynamic; Moe needs a good player but while he recognizes Nelson, it is much more about what he can do than who he is and while saying "that makes him no better than Fat Tony" doesn't quite ring true, the parallels very much do.

I work with a lot of kids and a lot struggle with challenging behaviour but I also notice most of the time, those are the very same kids who really want to spend time with me and talk with me, Kids need love and Moe is someone with a lot of love to give but he's also pretty screwed up and selfish and that makes for a good dynamic. So yeah, a Moe/Nelson episode is actually a prime combo to explore who these characters are, what makes them tick and their worth. Moe is definitely someone who in many episodes acts in a coach role and also can let people down so I feel like Coen in picking Nelson is a character, despite often being a jerk, we can sympathize with in that he's being used callously by someone who should sympathize.

Now keep in mind, I don't want to oversell the episode. I'd put it at a solid 7 out of 10. All the same, it's an episode that makes the central relationship endearing. This is a pretty Simpsons-lite episode (Lisa barely appears in it and the rest of the Simpsons are side characters) and it really ties into way back in the day when the creators were joking about a Moe spin-off in the commentary track. But Moe really is the character who is very strong at carrying his own stories so it makes sense to have a solid episode where he's straight up just the lead. That said... I know they aren't joined at the hip but where's Maya? Are they going to pick up the fact that Moe has a fiancé? Did they forget that?

Other great jokes:
"As I've been screaming for the last 15 minutes, all players must be wearing skates."
"Ah, that can't be-- oh, there it is, no cafeteria trays."

"And Tiger Williams, your instructor on basic pummeling and time permitting the American Novel from 1920 to the present."

This works because he immediately growls after his introduction while holding that book.

Johnny Unusual

My Life as a Vlog

I love the internet but if anything creeps me out about it, it's conspicuous affluence online. There's something inhuman about the way it's all filmed, like one step removed from what humanity looks like. I know the people on them must be real people with real feelings but the way they are filmed dehumanizes them somehow. And it's freaky that it becomes such a cottage industry. The weird and unsettling niche's like "Troom Troom", a style that I am seeing weirdly a lot in online porn, where I am asking "who is this for" and feeling like someone is trying to sneak something untoward into all ages entertainment. And when I hear about online families and using kids for entertainment, I'm more upset. Especially since many of the kids I work with also want to be online personalities.

In this episode, the story of the Simpsons internet success is told as rabbit hole of youtube videos. The Simpsons are now internet celebrities, wealthy and beloved. It began with a viral video with Homer and Maggie that was adorable, heartwarming and genuine. From there, Homer and Maggie make more videos and eventually the entire family managed to find an audience. Marge hosts an interview show with celebrities, Bart has a prank show where he sprays people with yogurt with his crew and Lisa has videos of her inspiring others to look after the environment. But the family's videographer, Milhouse, releases unedited footage proving the family's dynamics have become toxic and phony behind the scenes. Even worse, Homer betrays Maggie when he puts something he knows she's scared of in her room as part of a marketing campaign. The family promises to address their allegations in a livestream but on the day of the stream, the Simpsons are missing. Internet detectives try to find the Simpson mansion (they never told anyone where they lived for privacy) and eventually track them down to a panic room in their house. It turns out because the incompetent architect reversed the panic room door, people could get in and not out. But 9 days without the Internet made them go cold turkey on their addiction and seeing what Internet fame turned them into, found themselves able to quit it.

My Life as a Vlog is an episode that experiments with the format and though it is in ways I feel like the show has toyed with before, I think it is largely a success. Of the four episodes she's written, I like three of them quite a bit, including this one (One Angry Lisa is the outlier, it just doesn't work). Though it isn't one of the more emotional episodes (except one effective scene I think really works) but I think it's ideas and theming and format make it work. I think it also helps that the direction is pretty strong, Debbie Mahan, who also did the great A Serious Flanders and The King of Nice worked on this and I think some of the flourishes, like Homer desperately scratching at the wall that hides a fridge, is pretty good. And there's something specific about the way they film Bart and Lisa traipsing through the house that does remind me of the direction of actual influencer videos.

It's also an episode where I can see some missed opportunities but what makes it in is largely quite strong. I wish it did a few more style parodies of internet videos (seriously, the directing style feels like really good fodder and it does do that well in the first few minutes of the episode) and I'd love to see them more specifically tackle the kind of problems and pseudo-child labour that goes into some families' Internet careers rather than "they are addicted to attention." Like, that's there and I definitely believe that's a motivating factor in terms of self-worth but the specificity of this era I feel has specific issues and insights. Still, I think the simplicity also works in it's favour and despite being an episode about "the now", it does feel like it should age just fine overall.

Overall, the episode mostly succeeds because it is really funny, I like that while the Simpsons become corrupted, it really does start from an innocent place. It's interesting when a genuine moment becomes a phenomena and touchstone. And I don't fault anyone for wanting to get paid for it because if you did something amazing, even on accident, that is recognized and becomes part of the popular landscape, I think people who did it can be allowed to leverage it to make their lives a little easier. But here, it goes from a genuine moment to something crass and that makes for a good story. I'm less interested in "Bart and Lisa are phony's now" but when Homer intentionally puts something in Maggie's room he knows she's scared of to further their success, that's an engaging story of corruption. It's shitty but plausibly shitty; Homer thinks he can make it worse and feels bad when it doesn't and Maggie is both scared and feels betrayed. It's the kind of thing a parent might actually try and feel bad about and I think it's the part of the episode that brings it all together.

Other great jokes:
"Either the internet baby goes in there or you forfeit all nom-pensation."
"So, that's, uh, nom-negotiable? Hehehe."
"That's not a real word."

"It was all Homer's fault."
"You said it was nobody's fault."
"That's how I'm supposed to feel. But I'm not there yet."

"Thankfully we had our supplies of single use hat toilets."
"Those were just hats."

Other notes:
It's weird George RR Martin didn't voice himself and that Azaria is basically doing his nerd voice for Doug.

I feel like Julie Kavner had a ball doing the Patty and Selma ASMR videos.

It's a little on the nose but having the family being forced to each the garbage they shill is some classic "dramatic irony."

Johnny Unusual

The Many Saints of Springfield

If there's one thing I like in fiction, it is looking at the flaws of good people and the virtues of bad ones. Not because I feel like we are all secretly bad or good but because we are all pretty complex. Well most of us. But I feel that there is complexity in general. That doesn't forgive a person who has basically dedicated their life to ill-doings, there are a lot of real life villains where I'd rather energy spent on putting them behind bars than seeing their positives but in fiction, both can be an examination of the self. That said, sometimes it's an idea glossed over.

In this episode, Flanders has hit hard times and goes to pray in a Catholic church. There he meets Fat Tony, who promises to be an angel investor in the re-opening of the Leftorium. Unaware Tony is the head of the Springfield mafia, Flanders agrees and the Leftorium's success is assured thanks to the mob. Flanders is happy and he and Tony hit it off but when Lisa tips off Flanders that he's in bed with the mob, he tries to leave, only for the mob to threaten him. Flanders starts hiding out with the Simpsons but when the mob tracks him to the Simpsons' house, Flanders has already moved on to try to reason with Tony. It seems to go well but when Tony's goons arrive, Tony tells them to kill Flanders. Flanders reveals he's wearing a wire and the mob goes down.

The Many Saints of Springfield is an Al Jean episode. Frankly, I'm tired of crapping on Jean, since I know there are many factors that go into an episode not working but I just think the dude has some poor instincts on how to make an episode these days. Even though the show has greatly improved, it seems like he likes setting up wacky scenarios than having them pay off in terms of story-telling, character or tone. And all of that would be forgivable, easily so, if it was very funny but it really isn't. Structurally, it is sloppy but not nearly as bad as some of the worst episodes. So we have another episode with the problem I have with so much post Golden Age: interesting ideas that aren't utilized.

So what are these ideas? Well, one is "is Flanders too trusting and wanting to see the best in people and what are the pros and cons of this." OK, this is a good starting point. Flanders wants to see the best in people but maybe some people are too willingly terrible to spend time on them. I'm not saying people aren't beyond redemption but if there's someone not even entertaining trying, then maybe this ability of Flanders can distract him. I think it also toys with the irony of mobsters being "good Christians", which has been toyed with before but never successfully explored. Does Flanders need to grow his ability to see beyond his point of view to help him be less of a Pollyanna? There are interesting ideas here but instead we have a far duller version of a story done much better in A Serious Flanders.

@Octopus Prime has a general rule that if the couch gag is long, the episode is a dud. This is often the case and the couch gag here is long, involved and somewhat amusing (ALF IS IN IT!), so yeah, this is another one. It's a shame because I feel like the show has shifted priorities over the last few years to much more focused and emotionally engaged storytelling. It does feel like it has become a show that is once again understanding the times and less "old man yelling at clouds" or self-reflexive meta-Simpsons (I say this despite thinking the Simpsons World Halloween segment is a highlight)

Other great jokes:
Rod and Todd's "mischief and mayhem" bit is pretty good.

Johnny Unusual

Carl Carlson Rides Again

The Simpsons has a complex and checkered history with race representation. Obviously, one of the most infamous elements is the character of Apu, which really hasn't been untangled yet; it is good that the character is not voiced by Azaria but now the show's prominent South Asian character has been relegated to unspoken background gags. There was also an attempt early in the series to have an episode where Dr. Hibbert ends up opposed to Homer on the topic of race that would have been written by Simpsons vet and future King of the Hill/The Office/Parks and Recreation showrunner Greg Daniels but it ended up being tabled because it was felt to be too incendiary to be discussed appropriately. Considering the era, it may have been for the best but it also feels like a missed opportunity. The show has been weird like that and I think the writer's sympathies are with minorities but it has had a bad history of the old standby of "different things are weird and funny", even when the joke is also on the people saying it.

In this episode, Carl meets a beautiful black woman, Naima, and falls in love but feels self conscious that he might not seem black enough. Carl visits the black part of town and finds himself feeling like an outsider and gets a makeover, which includes selling a cowboy belt buckle he's had since he was a child to pay for it. Naima sees right through Carl and says she liked him when they first met but she wants someone who understands himself and advises him to self-reflect. Carl realizes being raised by white people and having a primarily white friend group has left him confused about his racial identity, a conversation his friends realize they are scared of having. Carl realizes he needs his belt buckle back since it was the only clue to his past and though Homer and his friends are afraid of doing the wrong thing, Marge encourages Homer to help him. They earn money to buy back the belt buckle but it's already been sold to Rich Texan, who in turn sold it to Henry Louis Gates Jr, the host of TV's Finding Your Roots. He reveals to Carl his family history and that he comes from a long line of black cowboys, including his father. Carl is moved and is now convinced he's a cowboy and rides a bull to prove it. He's seriously hurt but Naima while Naima thinks his ride was a bit foolish, his newfound understanding of himself moves her and the two begin a relationship.

Loni Steele Sosthand wrote this episode, who previously wrote The Sound of Bleeding Gums and only two episodes and she's carving out a niche of episodes that actually cleverly explore representation on the show, based on her personal experience. In this case, Loni is exploring her own experiences being mixed race by having one of the show's most notable black characters come to terms with who they are in an honest way. Carl has had an episode before, and not a bad one if I recall, and though it dealt with his past, it's clear the show was still not quite ready to deal with race. The show has had black writers like Marc Wilmore and Michael Price but there was only one episode to my mind that explored blackness and even then it was primarily from the point of view of white characters grappling with it by white writers. Carl Carlson Rides Again is very much Carl's story.

And I think it is a well-observed story, too. You really see that Carl is someone who, like his friends, really isn't comfortable dealing with race because of how rarely he's engaged black people and culture in Springfield and how ignorant he is, like having Huey P Newton on his new shirt without knowing what it is. He tries to dress and act "black" but just embarrasses himself and it's clear that Naima isn't bothered that he isn't "black" enough, she's bothered by his lack of self-reflection and understanding. I often really respect when the Simpsons can put us in the position of a character and while this isn't exactly a "raw" episode, sing Carl cringe through his date as he slowly starts to understand his ignorance to try to chuckle his way through his awkward black barbershop where Homer and Bart already feel at home does a good job getting us there.

Alex Désert has been Carl for a couple years now since Azaria left the role and he too has a similar experience, a man of Haitian decent who was raised in a predominantly white Jewish community. I think he does a really good job carrying the episode and it helps that he has an empathetic script. While far from mirthless, this isn't a laugh-a-minute script (I mean, so few are now anyways) and is much more a character piece for a character largely known as one half of a duo. And there are funny ideas, like Homer and his friends hurting themselves (or pretending? It's not clear) to create a meal train scam or the idea that everyone learning about their ancestry starts to think they have hidden natural talents. But the focus really is making more of Carl and it succeeds.

Other great jokes:
"So that's why you abandoned us and made us lose to the worst team in the league."
Hans Moleman: "Good game...

Johnny Unusual


Looking after kids can be exhausting; physically, emotionally, spiritually. It's not to say it isn't rewarding but it takes a lot. And a lot of the kids I find the most challenging are often the same kids I find can be a lot of fun or are surprisingly creative. They need help, yes, but these kids work really hard. But sometimes the frustrations can come out and it makes it hard to see the positives in a moment because you are trying to put out a fire. One of the great things about collaboration is also being able to have another perspective and often, that can lead to empathy and that includes seeing where they've been and how far they've come.

In this episode, after Bart is in trouble with the library for encouraging preschoolers to draw in books, Homer and Marge spend an evening cussing him out over his behaviour, even though Bart claims he was trying to make the kids like the books more. When Homer and Marge go to his teacher, they are shocked to find they are grateful to Bart and his creativity; though the property destruction was not great, the school decided to let the kids continue the activity by using photocopies of the book they are allowed to draw on. Homer and Marge leave the meeting ashamed and shocked that everyone else is seeing value in Bart and they see the worst. The couple wonders perhaps they love him but don't like him, based on resentment over having him too early in their lives and the weight of having to learn to be parents to a child with so many challenging behaviours. Wonder what they would think if they could see Bart with fresh eyes, they fall asleep and dream that Bart was never born. Homer and Marge are big successes and are very happy. One night, Marge accidentally hits a child with her car; Bart. They take the child in until his parents can be found but soon find his chaotic behaviour abhorrent. However, when Homer takes Bart to work, his chaos opens up new avenues of fun and creativity. Marge takes his "take no crap" attitude to work and manages to get more done by making her flakey employees fall in line. He teaches Lisa, who is more high strung in this reality, how to laugh and enjoy life. Soon Homer and Marge see his value but are scared when Chief Wiggum takes him away. Homer and Marge wake up and realize they like Bart for who he is.... though Bart is offended when they admit they "just realized that."

John Frink is a long-running writer on the show and while I've not been a fan of a lot of his episodes, I feel like the last one he did before this, Pixelated and Afraid, was a shockingly strong episode. And in this one he comes out with another strong episode, one that takes into account who these people are as characters. And more than that, it's really about being able to see a person's virtues, even if they frustrate you. Bart is a character I feel the show's been kind of unfair to for a while. After a while they made him really dumb and gave him shit for it. Often he would be too mean or just an asshole but to me, Bart works when he is someone who both likes to cause trouble but also has a surprising capacity for empathy. This is an episode that get it.

Now I don't think the episode is saying things about Bart that I never thought of before and it's stuff the show has laid out but at the same time, I really like that they made the episode really both an examination of why Bart is a force for good in the world, as rough around the edges as he is and why it can sometimes be hard to see it, because his "spark" can be very hard to reign in. Often, my issue with a lot of the Frink episodes is they were more humour-focused than character or story and that would be fine if they often weren't not that funny, kind of sloppy and made the characters either uninteresting or unlikable. Here, as with the last episode, pretty much ALL of my issues are wiped clean for a stronger story.

The Simpsons is in a place where it feels like there are more episodes that take place as part of an imagined story or a dream more than ever, like a Silver Age Superman comic. This is understandable; there are certainly still stories to tell in the classic setting but living with these characters so long, you can't help but wonder "what if" stories for them that just don't make sense in regular continuity. And this isn't just a fun scenario, it very much is ABOUT Bart and what is good about him. The fact is, there are people who can annoy you but sometimes those things that do can be tied to those virtues. It's not a terrible deep episode, but it is a sweet one that I think gives affection to a character sometimes the show treats a bit poorly.

Other great jokes:
"The kids haven't been this excited to read since we stocked Matthew Perry's autobiography."
Great as a non-sequitur, shame it aged super weird, super fast.

Similarly good non-sequitur nonsense is the "rally ferret."

"Maybe the sex closet could be a supply closet?"
"And maybe the sex-mobile could become an ambulance."

Other notes:
I feel like this is the first new Itchy and Scratchy in a while and the animation they did for this one is amazing. I feel like Rob Oliver really wanted to ad a sense of fluidity to it that I haven't seen in a while.


Johnny Unusual

Hostile Kirk Place

The question of which Simpsons characters are going to have more meat on the story-telling bone is an interesting one. They certainly tried to give Duffman more than you would think and it didn't even crash and burn. But one of the biggest surprises in the last few years was Kirk Van Houten, who is now in the Ned Flanders role. No, not as good natured neighbour. As the show's villain representing the problems of the era. The Bush era prompted the writers to turn Ned Flanders into a right wing religious creep and frankly, I think it's been worse for the character overall; he's a character whose often noted for his humanity and patience and they basically just turned him into an anti-lgbtq+ bigot for a long time. Kirk's new thing, however, is a product of the Trump Era; a fragile man who desperately wants to appear strong, who is insecure about his masculinity, is awkward and has a bad understanding of boundaries. Weirdly, this is better for Kirk. He's now a worse person, not just a sad sack but a sad sack who has become bitter. But at the same time, you see him both as the villain and as someone who has, due to both his naivete and societal pressures, is convinced he needs to be some sort of superhero. I won't say you empathize with him because in most cases, little can justify his petty evil but you see him as pitiable and maybe, unlike Mr. Burns, he might be able to find his way into being a decent man. Though sadly, probably not.

In this episode, the school is closed for a time and the children are home schooled. To Kirk Van Houten's ire, they teach how his ancestor created a disaster with a giant gazebo that became the shame of the town. Meanwhile, Homer realizes he's racked up a lot of bills buying informercial products. After a trip to Moe's the two are inspired; Kirk to fight against the narrative of his past and Homer to create a product to sell to sucker consumers. Kirk decides the best way to handle the narrative is to barge into a meeting with the teachers and rant about how the story of the gazebo disaster is making children hate their town and making him feel upset. Some people get on board with Kirk's stance, causing a disagreement with them and the Prince family. Marge is upset but Homer decides to use it as an opportunity to resell his copper mesh shirts he bought with light up slogans. Homer becomes richer stoking the flames of anger and eventually Mayor Quimby is so scared Kirk's faction is going to burn down city hall he gives Kirk what he wants. Marge intends to act as a "guardrail" but Kirk walks all over her and begins burning books and turning the city into a fascist police state. Marge finally decides to stand up to him but Kirk takes the wrong lesson from their talk and instead tries to recreate the gazebo to rewrite the past. Instead, Homer's copper shirts end up creating a magnetic disruption that brings down the gazebo, effectively ending Kirk's campaign.

Michael Price is a long time writer on the Simpsons and while there are some writers who I am more favourable to than others, I find Price can really be all over the map. There are a few really solid episodes, a number of decent/OKish ones and a few stinkers. But I feel like this era has really been redemptive for a lot of writers whose work I didn't care for in the past and while I wouldn't put Price in that camp, this is the strongest one he's done in a while. On paper, I feel like it shouldn't work because a lot of Simpsons episodes about "the now" are often really heavy-handed and eye-rolly. Don't get me wrong, this one is terribly unsubtle about what it is getting at and what it is trying to say but I think the secret sauce to this working is Kirk's new role in the show.

Kirk's role previous was just a big loser. Moe literally calls him Big Milhouse but even then, Milhouse is far less of a loser and he's also a big loser. That's what we are dealing with. We laugh at him but it's also sort of sad. Positioning him to an antagonist role and roles where he represents some of humanity's pathetic but dangerous aspects makes sense and I think it works because we see that his evil is not born of greed like Mr. Burns but a different kind of want; he desperately wants to be seen. And for a lot of people, that means being seen as some kind of do-no-wrong superhero instead of a three-dimensional person. People eventually give him what he wants, thinking it will be a small thing but he just learns the lesson that he can keep yelling and forcing people to believe what he needs them to. Again, there is no subtlety, he literally covers the town in facist slogans with a goosestepping army and appears on Tucker Carlson.

But I don't always need subtly and I can forgive being very obvious with the messaging if it is funny, consistent and well-structured, which it is. I think Price understands where the fear of failure and the unmasculine comes from and how it taints people like Kirk who have paper thin skin and a phobia of being wrong. His solution is not self-betterment but to make the world worse and call it an improvement, to simplify everything. It's a point of view that sadly can get followers and while the limitations of such an approach politically are becoming much more visible to the GOP (turns out if you hand over power to one guy and think you can guardrail him, it works out very poorly when you want to do something they don't want to do), it can still gain a scary amount of momentum. If there's one complaint, I wanted a bit more of an epilogue to this one, which basically ends right after the gazebo collapse. I don't even need Kirk to learn a lesson (which would be appropriate since his philosophy was "don't learn anything") but I feel like even in terms of humour, I feel like I'm missing one more button. It comes close to Homer concluding "We don't have to learn from history but don't mess with science" but I just wanted a little more.

Other great jokes:
"1986! I was two year old then. Or was I thirty..."

Calling Kirk "Big Milhouse" is basically the same joke as Lisa being called "Big Maggie" and I love it still.

"Look at my son? Do you think he needs to feel worse about he already does? YOU ARE DOING THIS TO HIM!"

I love the Marge-ism of "it causes upsetment."

Other notes:
I like the callback to the Christmas Hobgoblin woo-pitching song

I'm shocked that Shaq isn't on this episode playing himself.

It's funny that Lady Gaga visiting is one of the big Springfield disasters but it still has nothing on Musk.

It's weird that Comic Book Guy and Kumi are cheering Kirk on at the end despite being on the opposite faction. Like, this is definitely a thing that can happen but narratively, it feels like the animators just needed to fill space.

Johnny Unusual

Pin Gal

Albert "A." Brooks. Though he's had only a few appearances on the series 35 year run, he is, like Jon Lovitz, an institution of the show. He first had two characters WAY back in season one and since returning, had never voiced the same character twice. And it would be tempting; Hank Scorpio is one of the series most beloved characters despite only appearing once (and a lot of him was used for the villain in the Simpsons Movie). He's one of the few guest stars invited to ad lib. There's so much that Albert Brooks brought to the show. And now he's back... voicing a character he's voiced before.

In this episode, Homer and his friends are shocked that Barney's Bowlarama is closing, now purchased by Terrence (the hipster from The Day The Earth Looked Cool). Terrance wants to turn it into a hip venue with no bowling but invites Homer to try to up business within a week to prove it's worth keeping. Homer is failing but invites Marge for a game to keep attendance up. Marge is hesitant but goes and to Homer's surprise, crushes it. That's because Marge already took bowling lessons from Jacques, the Casanova bowler who tried to win Marge's heart. Terrence is impressed with the hipster level of Marge as a bowler (due to her 1950s-style look) and challenges her to a game against a competitor of his choosing for the fate of the Bowlarama. Marge begins thinking about how she was tempted by Jacques and gets the yips so Homer calls in a bowling coach; Jacques. Marge doesn't want to admit to her husband about her considering infidelity and goes along with it while Jacques tries to tempt her into an affair. When Homer figures out what's going on, he confronts Jacques and they get into a fight. Marge arrives to break it up and admits it was during a hard time in their marriage and Homer, thinking of ALL the hard times, forgives her. At the big game, it's Marge Vs. Jacques, who was Terrence's proxy all-along, but Marge defeats him by a slim margin.

Usually, I am looking forward to a Albert Brooks episode but I think this is a reminder of the strength of not returning to a character; it won't disappoint you. I think if you are going to bring a character back, a season one character isn't a bad choice. Hank Scorpio is almost too perfect to try to recapture lightning in a bottle and Jacques is from an era of the show were the tone was quite different so I think it might be the best choice. But it is tough because Life on the Fast Lane is maybe the best season one episode (that or Moanin' Lisa) and revisiting it, as has happened before with the show, could easily be diminishing returns.

And sadly, that is what it is. Keep in mind, it's not a bad episode, it's just that I feel like I've seen this episode a lot over the course of the series; Homer is worried about losing Marge to a more charming dude. Marge is like "if I haven't left you at this point" and Homer goes with it. Having Albert Brooks doesn't hurt but I will also say this is one of his lesser appearances to be sure. A lot of the later ones still have a line or two that I love but here, everything is just fine. I don't think that trotting out all of these monogamy threats from previous seasons is doing much to create a unique plot. Jeff Westbrook has written some good episodes before but it's a big ask to do a sequel to a John Schwartzwalder episode, even a season one.

The one space I will give this one props for, though, is it's a very well-directed episode by long-timer Chris Clements. The animation looks really good, especially with the subtler movements of Jacques and some of the dream sequences and set pieces. It's an episode that looks really quite good and is very much trying. The problem is simply the script's lack of originality. The show has a lot of history but in these last few decades, the show tends to be stronger forging new paths rather than trying to find something new to do with older ideas. I get why this episode happened; not just nostalgia but really digging into what if Homer found out about this secret. That is dramatically interesting. The problem is "pretty much what you would expect" is the answer and it's not a terribly exciting one.

Johnny Unusual

Fan-ily Feud

Being a fan can come with heartache. Sometimes the person turns out to suck. Sometimes you get bummed when the glow starts to wear off. And sometimes fandom can produce a frightening level of toxicity. What is it about wanting to celebrate the best qualities of a person that can bring out our worse. Some people treat criticism as an attack and criticism of what we love as an attack on us. And some people are sadly not suited to handling that.

In this episode, Homer is annoyed by pop star Ashlee Starling's latest promotional stunt occurred why he and Bart attended a baseball game and Homer makes it known on national TV with his usual vitriol. Soon, Homer finds himself being harassed by Starling's vengeful fan army. What Homer doesn't suspect is that the army's chief strategist is Lisa, a major Starling fan, using her intimate knowledge of Homer to hit him where it hurts. Bart joins in to improve the pranks but Homer is approached by Echo, Starling's chief celebrity rival and puts him under the protection of her fan army. The prank war heats up until after mentioning liking her music on TV, Marge, who wants the war to end, finds herself being asked out to dinner by Starling. The next morning, Bart and Lisa's betrayal comes out, as does Marge; it turns out the date was an excuse to dig up humiliating dirt on Homer for a diss track which a drunken Marge happily provided. Homer, feeling betrayed by his family decides to ask Echo to help him make a diss track for his family. Echo asks if Homer really wants to hurt them and Homer decides he doesn't. Instead, Echo and Homer collaborate an a track that expresses the pain of being betrayed and forgiveness towards his family, forgiving them their mistakes just as they've forgiven his and just been a great family to him.

This is the second Broti Gupta episode and like the season opener, it's a really strong one. Though I think the episode does discuss the toxic nature of fandom, that's more of an impetus to just have a lot of fun with these characters while still giving the story emotional stakes and showing how petty rivalry on a grand scale is just sad. I think the ending aims for emotion in an ending song/video that I think is well-directed but I suspect it's efficacy might be a "your mileage may vary" situation. I liked it OK but I felt it went a little long. Still, the strength of that length is I think it wanted to spend actual time in Homer's emotions rather than "here's a mostly funny kind of sweet song about Homer's emotions. It's a very well-balanced episode and shows Gupta is a writer who has a lot of empathy for our favourite family, a fact some of the writers seem to forget.

I understand why; the Simpsons can get a bit shmaltzy from time to time but the show is more famous for undercutting that. The show went a little too far in the jerkass Homer era of Mike Scully and Al Jean's era often had a hard time getting the balance right, either getting too sentimental or just not earning a happy ending, giving it a cynical feel. Balancing silliness, emotions and real character in a script can be tricky, especially in a show with such established characters; it gives you a road map but can result in sameness or makes you live up to a tough legacy. Gupta is one of the writers I trust most with that legacy and while I think Matt Selman's duties as showrunner have played a role in the series improved quality (though the trajectory started to happen a bit before that), I would not mind putting her in this role.

Interestingly, Jade Novah provided the voice for both singers (which made me think there was going to be a reveal that Echo was doing a double Hannah Montana). She does a good job in the episode and while it is unfortune that she plays a role similar to a lot of guest stars where they get more expository lines than laugh lines, I think getting a lot of decent songs out of her more than makes up for it. It's not a strongly funny role but it does feel game in the sense that she is going hard for the wacky yellow family and it's appreciated. Between this and Habeas Tortoise, I feel like she might have a pet theme for the series; finding the humanity within a toxic subculture. What human failing creates such evil and is there a sort of sad beauty in it or perhaps those same terrible instincts are connected also to something more virtuous. In these episodes, Homer and Lisa fall prey to a terrible subculture that makes them hurt others but they find themselves able to pull away by the guiding light of love. I know she has a new episode in the most recent season, so it will be interesting to see if the trend continues.

Other notes:
"Hmm... an eye for an eye... *gasp* EVERYONE WINS!"

"Wouldn't dad be surprised to learn that his handsome pills are really the dogs heart worm medication."
"I can't believe you're having dinner with my nemesis. Especially after all the handsome pills I take for you..."

"You? The person I most suspect? I never saw it coming."

"My video made you think, huh?"
"No, it was super cringe. Like watching two teachers make out."

Other notes:
I like the callback to "A whale of a wife" in a way that plays it more for sweetness.

Johnny Unusual

Write Off This Episode

Awareness is something that is important. We need to be aware of a problem to help fix it. But raising awareness should be one stage of a multi-stage plan for advocacy and problem solving. The problem of course is we live in an era very attention focused and soon the other elements get washed away. It would be easy to blame social media but that feels more like an enabler to a bigger problem of the human condition where appearance matters can feel the same as doing something.

In this episode, Lisa learns Marge has come up with a simple but effective technique for cleaning very smelly clothes and Lisa decides maybe they should use it to help people without homes. As they begin giving away Marge's special cleaning bags, they are approached by Rich Texan, who wants to give them a charitable (and tax deductible) donation. This inspires Marge and Lisa to form the Lisa M. Simpson Foundation, to help get the cleaning bags into the hands of those who need it. While Lisa tries to get more ethical ingredients, Marge is approached by Bernice Hibbert about expanding, shifting the focus to awareness. Lisa is impressed with the new foundation until she comes to realize that it's become more about branding, creating a place to receive tax deductible donations and making corporations seem considerate. This causes a big tiff between her and Marge, which ends with Marge firing her. With Homer's help, Lisa goes through a lot of emotions but eventually patches things up with her mom, albeit with reluctance. But Marge comes to learn that even with their success, no one in her organization has no interest in using their clout, power and money to make a difference. On her way to the big gala for the new Lisa M. Simpson Foundation headquarters, Marge sees her branding (including Lisa's face) being used to promote less ethical companies and becomes ashamed. Deciding to head in the back entrance, she learns that her building also destroyed low-income housing, making the problem she's raising awareness for even worse. Marge declares her disgust with her company publicly and hands the reins over to Lisa, who immediate turns the building into a new homeless shelter.

Hey, it's an episode by J. Stewart Burns. And it's very good. Burns has written episodes I've enjoyed before but he's also turned in some of the series' weakest scripts. Granted, part of it could be a result of bad showrunning and the writer's room but most of the writers have turned in one or two good scripts in the rough years. This era with showrunning by Matt Selman (and now Rob LaZebnik) in addition to Al Jean, things seem to be getting better all over. So it's nice to see all the writer's whose work I've been complaining about get some real good ones under their belt. It's an episode that has what I want; character-based, has a clear, well-considered point of view and has good jokes.

The point of view is that charitable foundations can be as big a part of the problem as the problem. It's worth noting that the episode turns the Salvation Army as a minor antagonist as a joke but the Salvation Army has it's own serious problems, including anti-queer practices and some very bad landlording. Sometimes the Simpsons takes on a mostly good point of view but ends up doing some "both sidesing" or adds something to the argument that makes it poorly considered. But this episode pretty much gets it right; sometimes, the problem is a focus on appearances rather than actually helping. Despite a Mr. Burns speech at the end, the episode is very clear about what it wants to be about without being heavy-handed. I think couching it in these characters love for each other and never becoming just a diatribe.

I won't put this as the best episode of the season but it is the kind of episode I like about broaching a topic. It's about what it means to help people but it also focuses on the emotions of feeling betrayed or not being able to align visions for a better world. The episode does stop for the speech I alluded to, which is well-written as an independent piece but feels a little more like "here's the lesson" at the end of the episode. Overall, it's an episode that I think does teach well; I'm sure a lot of people are aware of it but I think it is a good way for people to consider charities; even for a good cause, they are not wholly good and many are hypocritical in their practices. This episode balances the lesson out well with the emotional core in a way I think results in a successful episode.

Other great jokes:

"You'll have your daughter back and I won't having to keep making up stages."

Other notes:

I feel like Kevin Michael Richardson is voicing more one-off characters than ever.

Johnny Unusual

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

I started my big Simpsons rewatch in the second month of COVID, before I became a preschool teacher. A lot has changed since then and I still wear my masks as much as I can (though I won't lie, sometimes I forget them). But the lockdown was a very weird time in America. Understandably, a lot of TV shows didn't want to include it in the stories, to not ruin the fantasy escapism of their worlds. Now, a lot do as a period piece, a time of fear. The Simpsons briefly did a cold open dealing with it but mostly ignored it. But three years later, they created an episode that dealt with it and... it was pretty good.

In this episode, a massive swarm of caterpillars has enveloped the town, forcing everyone into lockdown. Each Simpson deals with it in their own way; Maggie is going through a phase where she only eats foods with ranch dressing and Flanders, fearful that Homer might take advantage of him during "the end times" cuts him off. Marge and Homer are pushed to the brink and decide to steal Flanders ranch, which results in a big fight and when both parties see the results of their actions, they make peace. Lisa can't stop doomscrolling and tries to distract herself with a Malibu Stacy mall playset, only for her nihilistic fantasies invading her play fantasies. Eventually, Lisa decides we need to be telling each other to keep hope alive, even if it seems slim. Bart learns Skinner has been forgetting to turn off his camera for his virtual classroom allowing the kids of Springfield to watch and laugh at his personal dramas but when Skinner's cousin takes his childhood blanket, the kids feel sorry for him and anonymously help him retrieve it. After 5 days the caterpillars are gone... now turned into a swarm of butterflies enveloping the town.

The Very Hungry Caterpillars is the show's COVID episode, thinly-veiled, of course. To give it a timeless quality, the threat isn't a pandemic but a bug invasion, which, though not nearly to this scale, actually happens about every 7 years in my home town (though I can't remember the last time it happened. Either we are due or global warming took care of this one). The show has no real A-plot and breaks it up into separate Simpsons adventures, which is the right way to go. The recurring theme, though, is the kind of comfort we needed in the pandemic; a reminder that to get through this, we need empathy and to try to comfort each other, even when things look bad. It could sound trite but it really does work for the episode.

Of the three stories, I feel like Lisa's is the strongest overall. I feel like we have seen this Lisa story before where anxiety and negativity destroys her ability to have fun. Though sometimes the writers less helpfully approach it as "just get over it", a lot understand that it isn't easy. This one might seem like the former but I think it is a bit more nuanced, which is that falling into a negativity pit is easy but confronting it with a bit of faith in people is key and that we can get through it together. I actually think the episode could have been richer if this was the whole episode to examine and understand in greater depth how easy it is to fall into this kind of trap. In fact, I think though we didn't need it per se, all stories could have had more time in a two-parter.

The other two stories are good, though. Bart's falls predictably into him feeling for Skinner against his own wishes and helping him out and we has a classic Simpsons vs. Flanders rivalry where they come together in the spirit of good will. It's not groundbreaking but I think that writer Brian Kelley (one of my favourites of this era) makes it work because he gives the show a sense of claustrophobia and does tie into those feelings of isolation of the era. And I think that it weirdly has a feel akin to a Holiday episode, in that there's a sense that the norm has been disrupted and everyone needs to figure out what to do with their time. Next time I'm trapped inside, I might be tempted to fire this episode up. Just... no more pandemics please.

Other great jokes:
"Whatever rugby is, Wellington sucks at it."



"Santa delivered it early this year."
"Really? Why?"
"Because, uh, he doesn't have long to live."

Other notes:
Oh, that's Rob Lowe as Skinner's terrible cousin.

Yeardley Smith voices three Malibu Stacies and shockingly, though it is clearly Smith's voice, one of them doesn't just... sound like Lisa."

Johnny Unusual

Clown V. The Board of Education

Working with kids as an educator made me more sensitive to the need for good education and it can be hard to come by. Even well-intentioned educators can fall for bad practices that might seem good but have negative results. For one class I'm taking we are listening to the podcast mini-series Sold a Story about how one well-meaning but incorrect theory on literacy has dictated curriculum despite it being disproven decades ago. Sometimes, intention doesn't count for much. And one of my favourite story tropes is the reverse; what if a cynical move inadvertently resulted in a true good for the world.

In this episode of the Simpsons, Krusty feels his time is over and in talking with other clowns, decides there might be money in starting his own clown school for kids. He manages to convince the city and the school board and Bart ends up enrolling, convincing his parents this might be the only place for him. Sure enough, he succeeds and surprisingly, the quality of education turns out to be really strong, creating a class of top notch students. When Marge expresses to Krusty how grateful she is, Krusty finally has pride in himself and actually values his school not as a money making endeavor but as something that provides what kids need. But that's just in time for the mafia to muscle in on him, taking over the school to profit off of the student loan industry. Krusty is scared to do anything but eventually gets his gumption to go undercover to the cops, who fail him. But before Krusty is killed by a vengeful mob, the students of Krusty's school save him with a recording of Fat Tony's misdeeds. Tony comes up with a comprimise; Krusty won't be threatened anymore if they burn the school for the insurance money. The deed is done before Krusty even has a say but Krusty comes to the conclusion for a brief time he became the educator his father wanted him to be.

Clown V. the Board of Education is one of those episodes custom-built to be the kind of episode I like. My only complaint is Lisa only acts as a sort of spoilsport in the episode but it's an episode about the value of education and Bart gets to have virtue. I will say overall, it's not a top notch episode but it is solid throughout. Krusty is definitely one of the best non-Simpsons to focus an episode around; he's cynical and despite his profession of children's entertainer but his same headstrong nature that gets him into trouble also emboldens him to do good things from time-to-time. Krusty is a guy who kind of stumbles into the hero role, flounders a bit but his story is usually that he does one nice thing and would prefer not to do it again if he can help it.

Overall, it's an episode with a some quality laugh lines, a topic that speaks to me and I think the plot is pretty decent. The downside is it never extends past "pretty good, I guess." I think what Jeff Westbrook is trying to say might be "education as a business is something to be cynical about but education as a cause has merit." Krusty stumbles into quality education and then values it until Tony comes in to profit on bad stuff. Most of it is silly like selling red markers across the boarder. I was hoping for something a little deeper with the idea that student loans are a terrible scam but while the show says it, I'm a little bummed that it didn't go deeper into it, mostly to focus on silly school-related scams for Johnny Tightlips and Louie to take part in (whatever happened to Legs? The Simpsons wiki says he was in this one but it feels like Johnny Tightlips took over his spot. I guess "Louie but looks different" isn't enough of a personality...)

But again, while it's a somewhat slight episode, it's a pleasant one. I think the show has hit a stride where the quality ranges from "so-so to pretty great", which is definitely a big step up for the show. Nearing the end of it's 34th season, it feels even the long-time writers are somewhat re-invigorated. It's a show that has decently constructed scripts and after years of "a pitch clumsily turned into an episode" as the norm, it is so refreshing to see the show's norm as quality.

Other great jokes:

"OK, so maybe my material fizzled out in the 90s. What year is it now... 2000 and what?! I better talk to my writers... they're buried where?!"

"The most important thing in comedy is... is... uh..."
"What? WHAT? Is it being funny? Big shoes?! Tell me."
The episode tells you here how it is going to end but I admit I forgot that punchline was coming.

"What is that beautiful instrument?"
"It's a saxophone."
"Why don't you play something like that?"
"I play it every night."
"Well, why can't you be more yakkity."
"Mom, tell dad I'm plenty yakkity."
"Well, a little more won't hurt."

"Children, remember this inspirational thought; you will have to make up the school time you missed."
This is completely sold by Harry Shearer making Skinner extra stilted.

Ticklish Krusty is a bit that Castellaneta completely sells.

Johnny Unusual

Homer's Adventure Through the Windshield Glass

And here we are. It isn't the end of my journey but... Whoa, I am only a half season away from being caught up with this show. Season 34 has been on the whole very strong. The show is never going to be the Golden Age but that's OK. The show is in the hands of people who not only care about it but are behaving much more competently about it's construction. For a long time, it seems like the process of making the show had taken it over and it became more of a factory. I never felt like the creators where "phoning it in" (at least not in terms of the animation team) but it did seem like trying to produce 22 episodes a year for a series resulted in a sort of entropic state, like that one Don Hertzfeldt couch gag. Things seemed to be breaking down. Now it isn't always perfect but after an abysmal season 32 and a decent season 33, we have a very strong season 34. So I'm excited to see what season 35 brings.

In this episode, Homer starts driving with full on road rage, only to crash into a fire hydrant. Time slows down and Homer begins having a conversation with Gooby-Woo, Maggie's Happy Little Elves doll. Homer remembers that he was angry because he learned that Marge has committed financial infidelity; receiving $1000 a month from her father's estate. Gooby-Woo tells him it's OK to be upset but being mad at Marge is not the right way to go; he realizes Marge hasn't been using that money for herself, she's been using it to cover Homer's various misadventures. Homer is relieved at first but then realizes that Marge's dad set up the inheritance because he thought Homer was a loser. Homer is angry... then realizes that he's actually dead. In Hell, Homer meets Clarence, Marge's dad who shows Homer a future where Lisa wants to marry a loser she loves. Homer realizes that's how Clarence saw him and forgives him. Homer is allowed to return to life following this epiphany and wants to Marge to know he's let go of his anger on the issue.

I feel like there are a few episodes a year for a specific formula. There is usually one at least anthology or non-continuity episode, aside from the Halloween eps. There is usually at least one "the worst problem Marge and Homer's marriage ever faced" (which is among my least favourite, even in the better seasons). And lately, there's episodes taking place within a character's mind, usually Homer's. I get why; animation can allow for so much for happen and this allows the animators to let loose but also take the character through an emotional journey of the soul. The problem is, a lot of them are kind of samey and I feel like I'm not getting any new takes on this beloved character.

Keep in mind this isn't a bad episode. In fact, the sequence in Hell is a fairly funny segment. And Homer slow-mo flying through the air does go through some fun visuals. No one was skimping on animation. But I feel like as an episode where Homer does some self-reflecting, I feel like I've seen this kind of self-reflection a few too many times to have this episode being much more than "a few good gags and some good animation. You can do much worse than that, really but you can also do better. I'm not too surprised to see it is a Tim Long episode; it's one of the episodes from him I've liked more and he seems to have gotten some of his writing instincts I hated out of his system (shipping the child characters and creating new characters to ship with them) but still, I associate him with kinds of episodes I don't care for. But you know, looking back, I actually think he's done some really strong ones I forgot he was involved with; the Morrissey one, the one where Todd stops believing in God. Poorhouse Rock was a bit of a mixed bag, but I actually think at the very least, I'm respecting what he is striving for more now.

Overall, though, this one is just OK. Lizzo does great work, which is kind of a bummer that it seems she's been accused of racial and sexual harassment disability discrimination, assault and illegal retaliatory termination. Also drug use but that doesn't bother me as much. It's a shame because while I wasn't a listener, I did really enjoy the music she produced. I will say the end credits gag was pretty painful; it's the kind of pandering weak sauce I associate with the worst seasons of the show and also what I assume those Disney Plus shorts feel like (when I run out of episodes, I will do those).

Other great jokes:
"That's just what I'd do except the repairmen would be my favourite rock stars; KISS, Bon Jovi, Men at Work because of their excellent work ethic."

"You thought I wasn't worthy of Marge. I'll kill you and send you to Super Hell."

To Stalin: "Shut up, Tom Sellick."

"You died and when to Hell. RALPH KNOWS. WEEEEEE!"
Best Ralph moment in a long while.

Johnny Unusual

Homer's Crossing

Hey, we're here. I made it. It's the actual current season. And soon, I'll be at the current year. Then the most recent episode. It's been a long strange road and it's taken me about three and a half years to get here since early in the pandemic (I could have started watching earlier but no thanks, stretched out aspect ratio that crops gags). It's bizarre to see the arc where the series has taken a long way to coming back around to being pretty good. But it's also been rewarding. Yes, I've had to sit and stew in the show at it's worse; transphobia, fawning over the worst celebrities (even fawning over the good celebrities tended to suck), terribly constructed episodes that felt held together with scotch tape and staples. Now the ship has been righted and while things are never going to be what they once where, we have a decent show with my favourite characters. And Ralph.

In this episode, Homer accidentally volunteers for crossing guard duty. The day before, he discovers at work that his safety console is a fake and everyone's been doing his job for him and this lack of confidence has been affects his sex life. The first day as crossing guard, Homer saves Ralph Wiggums life and gets a lot of attention for it. Homer uses his time on TV to suggest the guards could use better equipment and Mayor Quimby, who is watching the program, decides to oblige. As the guards get full time salaries and start to feel very important, a sense of entitlement sets in among him and the other guards. When Homer botches science day, the city wants answers and to deflect the problem, Homer blames a lackluster budget. He convinces the town to give him an unlimited budget, shocking Chief Wiggum who recognizes paying off Homer for failing is a bad idea. Soon, the crossing guards become militarized and Homer is incredibly corrupt. When Quimby threatens to cut funding by a minor degree, Homer reacts with a smear campaign and Quimby retaliates by having Wiggum harass him. It ends up culminating in a stand off that eventually draws in other overfunded authoritarians like ICE and the TSA. As Homer threatens and berates all other groups, he ends up being hit by a car (as he did not look both ways) and ends up in the hospital.

Homer's Crossing is a good and quite funny episode that I don't feel quite sticks the landing. It's not even a bad ending and I like that it concludes with a plot point we forgot about from act one but it's kind of what I expected; Homer gets laid low and then Lisa gives a little speech about absolute power. It'll do but I think the episode had a pretty strong build up with Homer going from genuinely proud and wanting to help, albeit in a place that stroke his ego, to becoming an "orange lives matter" monster with a Punisher sticker on his laptop with an orange stripe on it. Granted, I feel like I've seen episodes like this before but this one does a good job ramping things up with a fun ridiculous premise of crossing guard overreach.

It's hardly subtle about how on-the-nose it is about thin-skinned cops claiming that the only problem with the police is not enough money and a need for unlimited power and respect but I think it works well. I think what I wanted in the ending, though, is something a bit darker. The episode already is mostly about us losing any sympathy we had for Homer and that's OK in the more politically satirical episodes where he is the villain, like the episode where he becomes the sanitation commissioner. Sometimes, you can just have Homer be the villain and not learn a lesson. To be fair, he doesn't seem to learn one but he has a lesson talked at him by Lisa and I feel like rather than giving a speech, we could have had a more comedically dark episode where Homer's life goes back to square one but we leave the town with this ridiculous crossing guard problem even worse and seemingly intractable.

Maybe that's my issue with the end. That either the best ways are not to have chance set us back to the quo but one of two things in opposite directions. You can show the problem has become a quagmire that is nearly impossible to solve or have a character manage to find a clever solution that really speaks to the underlying truth of the problem and also works within the satirical absurdity of the premise. As is, I have no problem with the episode except I only see how the episode, despite it culminating with an impact, lacks an impact and instead, it's a more conventional "back to square one". As is, though, there's a lot of funny, clever stuff in the episode and its a decent way to start the season.

Other great jokes:
"The last two endangered pandas died today in what zoo investigators are calling a brutal murder-suicide. Goodbye pandas. We'll see you at the crossroads."


"I'm worried that this power is subtly corrupting you."
"Oh, honey, relax. There's nothing subtle about it."

I wish I could find a video of the smear campaign

"Well meet in the most dangerous place in town."
"What, that Brunchausen by Loxy place that's been poisoning everyone for attention."

"The only force holding society together is America's meter maids."
"And meter butlers."

Other notes:
John Cena as Booger for the Revenge of the Nerds reboot? Count me in!

I like how even Mr. Burns just doesn't want to make Homer feel bad about himself and is just happy to let Homer think he does safety stuff.

Hey, they brought back the perverted arts guy.

Quimby kind have bigger cheeks in this arc.
The opener is a lot of fun.

Johnny Unusual

A Mid-Childhood Night's Dream

When the Simpsons first aired, I was one year younger than Lisa. Now I'm three months away from being 42. And Lisa remains eight, Bart remains 10 and Homer and Marge's... age keep getting a little bit older every decade or so. (I think Homer used to be 34 and now he's 42). We might notice that the actor's voices have changed but more or less everyone in Springfield will stay the same age forever. There's a comfort in that but that comfort will end too. The show will end, the actors are getting up there in years (particularly Harry Shearer, now 80). As a teenager, I was already having terrible nights of impotent quiet tantrums knowing I would die someday, recognizing the sad truth; time only goes forward and this too shall pass.

In this episode, Marge wakes from a beautiful dream of the past with tears in her eyes. Upon awaking, she realizes she's terribly sick and is worried about missing the school "bounce-a-thon" event, where the children race on moon hoppers. Marge goes back to sleep and in her dreams realizes the source of her anxiety and sense of sadness; she recently had a talk with her teacher about Bart moving onto grade five and is afraid Bart's childhood is ending. Between bouts of fever nightmares, Marge also learns Bart is in a "funny picture" phase and wants to take a funny picture at the finish line rather than a thumbs up, a kind of photo Marge has been collecting since grade 1. Marge has another dream where she realizes she'll go through the same thing with Lisa and Maggie and upon waking up, despite being violently ill, makes her way to the bounce-a-thon. She tries to take a picture of Lisa giving a thumbs up but collapses. There she has a talk with Ms. Peyton who tells her childhood doesn't end at fifth grade. Marge has a better sleep and when she wakes up, takes a picture of Bart striking a funny pose and loves it.

Man, it's shocking that we've had two "episode that takes place in a family member's head" episodes in a row. It feels like maybe they were meant to be back-to-back companion pieces. If so, this one is the superior one between it and Homer's Adventure Through the Windshield Glass. It feels less like it is in an intellectual space and more in a sadly emotional one. It's a situation I can relate to; the last day I looked after my niece in a role as nanny I spent most of the evening sobbing uncontrollably. Heck, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it. Just thinking about the future can put me ill at ease. If I'm very lucky, then I might live another 42 years. But, in the words of Smash Mouth, the years keep coming and they don't stop coming, and that's kind of scary.

Especially for someone like Marge who values her motherhood role so much. Carolyn Omine wrote this episode and she is a consistently strong writer for the series, especially for Marge and Bart episodes. Despite being full of wild visuals, it is an episode grounded in a very sad truth; things will change. And that can be scary. Even a change that is a net good can feel so sad for when an era ends. Carolyn gets that sense of fear and loss, but also that despite these natural concerns that on the other side, these changes are going to get better. It's a message that can easily be pat but I think the way Marge is written and acted helps a lot in terms of selling the journey.

The Simpsons has done a lot of these head journey eps but this is a particularly strong one. Most of them try for an emotional core to them, a real exploration of the character's fears, insecurities and growth but I think the issue with a lot of them, especially the Homer ones, is a lot of the crisis feel concocted for the episode; an old trauma for Homer to face, not routed in any previously known issue or if so, not really satisfyingly dug into. This one is very much a situation Marge would eventually have to confront and is so true to her character. The jokes are decent but really, it's an episode that takes the visual wildness of those other episodes but with a more palpable center.

Other great jokes:
"It's a scientifical concept called Lucy dreaming, invented by sleep doctors from a country somewhere."
"Wow, Lisa's as smart as old Sheldon."

"So that's why your having these nightmares: Bart is super-rude and full of splinters."

Johnny Unusual

McMansion and Wife

I haven't had a house in a very long time but my family does have a cottage. In general, we've gotten on with our neighbours but as of late some of the new neighbours decisions have created a bit of awkwardness and tension to the relationship regarding what goes on whose property. These kinds of disagreements can be uncomfortable; often it is not as easy as "you do what you want on your side and I'll do the same" because being a good neighbour means a respect of space and also a respect of how one's space can effect another.

In this episode, the Simpsons get some friendly and rich new next door neighbours who immediately make friends with Homer and Marge. Homer's new friend Thayer deals in brand name sports cars and starts to enchant Homer with his. Homer likes Thayer but something is telling him to be wary, an instinct harder to head with Thayer dazzles him with his Lambo. Eventually it turns out what Thayer was up to; massive renovations to turn his house into a mansion. Homer tries to talk him out of his but Thayer dazzles him again and promises they'll adjust the renovations to make their lives easier. But the renovations lead to a bigger problem; the house itself, now blocking the view of the neighbourhood. Meanwhile Lisa helps fight Nelson's bullying by cyberbullying him. Nelson strikes back by getting Lisa's sometimes nemesis Hubert Wong to act as a counter-cyberbully but eventually everyone tires of the war and Hubert and Lisa are friends. They reveal that their street is of historical significance, making the renovations illegal. Homer tells off Thayer, telling his customers that brand name means little beyond the brand itself.

This is a very weak one. It's not bad but it is representative of the kind of elements I really don't like. Oh, there's no problematic elements or contrived plotting. But there is lazy plotting where the b-story just kind of ends and in the end I'm forced to ask "what was the episode's point?" Dan Vebber wrote this one and I've found him to be a decent writer on the series so this was a disappointment. It feels more like the bad old days where it felt like a writer came in with a strong pitch and somehow other writers working on it resulted in a hodge podge where the main conceit was lost under the premise.

Now the episode tries to end with Homer spelling out a message; that tying yourself to a brand is stupid and sports cars are just ego wanks for rich jerks. But the episode really isn't about that. If anything, it's about Homer consistently being dazzled into agreeing to things to make his life worse. That's a good idea; we know Homer is a gullible soul but this goes beyond that because even early on Homer seems to grasp a catch but he's being manipulated by his wants into letting himself be a victim of this jerk. It's an interesting idea but it never really feels like the exploration of it is complete.

And that brings me to the problem of the b-plot. Lisa and Bart in a cyber bullying war feels ripe for comedy, exploring and testing the character's more boundaries and also-- oh. It's over. Because the characters got bored of it. And now Hubert and Lisa solve the A-plot for some reason with nothing from Homer or Marge. It feels like Dan had this solution in a box and was looking at the clock to see when time was up to pop it out. This is a shame because the opportunity is for Marge and Homer to find a clever solution. After all, the episode starts with them worried about being bad neighbours. But what if that was their weapon? I don't even fully explores the idea that Homer and Marge finally have worse neighbours than themselves. So yeah, this one is really a lot of the old problems bubbling up again, with a very interesting premise hampered by an inability to connect the dots or have solutions that speak to these characters (I guess except for Homer being too lazy to affect the plot, I guess).

Johnny Unusual

Thirst Trap: A Corporate Love Story

It's interesting to look at the trajectory of million/billionaires in the 2000s/2010s. It felt like a lot of them were promising to be a different KIND of rich person. In the 90s, it was the rich person who cares, usually related to the environment. It turns out they didn't. In many cases, I don't even think they were just lying to us, they were lying to themselves. It's a trend that continued in the tech industry with the promise to create real change. This felt like it was going beyond "we are your ally" to "I am the superhero". Billionaire idiots like Elon Musk would have a fucking Simpsons episode where Lisa would declare him "our greatest living inventor" and living is only truthful based on how you measure the quality of life. But people still by in hard and when you do that, it can be hard to see things reasonably, especially when someone is trying to warn you that all the energy you put into that relationship was a waste.

In this episode, in the form of a documentary, Lisa is interviewing a promising tech engineer mogul Persephone O'Dare who is trying to sell a revolutionary de-salinization product called Lifeboat that can turn ocean water into fresh water. When Lisa brings up the wealth of Burns, Persephone courts Burns and courts him hard to sell him on her product. Burns eventually is convinced, despite his hesitation and goes hard, converting one of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant's cooling towers to become the new Lifeboat headquarters and convinces his super-wealthy friends to invest. Many of the plant workers are given fancy new jobs and titles and Burns and Persephone fall in love. But soon cracks begin to emerge in the company; people who question things are quickly fired, the chief engineer isn't even allowed to look inside the product, and Carl simply disappears after sending an e-mail of his concerns. While Persephone and Burns live it up, an anonymous whistleblower starts bringing to light new information that damages the company's reputation. Persephone and Burns learn the whistle blower is actually Homer, who reveals to Persephone superfan Lisa the truth; the machine actually adds a powerful sweetener to the salt water, masking the salty taste. Lisa and Homer rush to stop a demonstration at Springfield elementary. At first Burns refuses to hear that Lifeboat is a scam but when Homer convinces to listen to his wife through "marriage eyes" and realizing she's full of crap. Burns realizes he's liable if the children drink the water and after Homer stops the demonstration, Burns realizes that she is completely deluded and that bothers him far more than her evil. Persephone goes to jail and Burns nurses his broken heart.

Man, that took a while to write. So this one is a pretty good one. In many ways, it's an episode that reflects the Musk situation but also borrows from a lot of documentaries about "disruptors" and "tech revolutionaries" who are just con men. It's not a revolutionary episode but it has a bit more insight in spaces than I expected and really appreciated. It's also a weirdly guest heavy episode with a bunch of famous documentarians making cameos and Elizabeth Banks as Persephone. She does a decent job playing a particular kind of maniac and it's clear the writers had deliciously tortured analogies and sayings to put in her mouth, which is always a favourite choice of mine.

As I watched the episode, I'm also thinking of Sold a Story, a podcast about how a "revolutionary new technique to teach reading" has proliferated in public schools despite being complete garbo and harmful to the process. The woman who created it truly believed in it, even when confronted with contrary evidence and it was being taught in schools despite for many many decades science disproving it. The people who were for it went hard and it was easier to stand by it when one of the biggest critics was George W. Bush's administration... AND opposition to it was also wrapped up in the awful No Child Left Behind act. It can be hard to cut loose one of these ideas, especially when it is connected to a "good". Clay was not a billionaire, though, just misguided. But you mix up delusions of heroism with profit and add isolation from critics, you are bound to create a monster.

The episode ends pretty on the nose but I actually like it. Burns ends the relationship not because Persephone is evil. "I love evil. It's that she still insists she's good." I love this line because it is the perfect companion to "When you try to be good, you're even more evil." Fake it till you make it is not bad advice for when you start working. Not so much for the powerful. To quote another sitcom "it's not a lie if you believe it." And now we are in a world where politicians and business people are desperate for everyone, including them, to believe their own lie, to will their reality into existence by never shutting up about it. Because the second that lie breaks, they will have to sit with the truth and for people like that, it's far too horrifying a thought. Now, I only think the episode falls in the wheelhouse of "pretty good" but I love the ideas they are playing with. If anything, it's interesting to see after the Simpsons decided to do the Elon Musk episode, which is essentially the same lie perpetuation it is criticizing here.

Other great jokes:
"Great questions are the jackhammers that demo the walls built up by disruptophobes to create the open floor plan of innovation."
"I've always thought that about questions."


"Everyone had a creative title"
"Persephone O'Dare; founder and status quo demolitionist."
"Montgomery Burns, chief change alchemist"
"Waylon Smithers, purposefulness warlock"
"Carl Carlson, braindump magician."
"Lenny Leonard, storytelling ninja."
"Homer Simpson, Comepticity Rock Star"
"Say it again"

"Water is the original crypto and every drop is encoded on the biological blockchain and we are the aquanauts of the potable future. This is wet 3.0."

"Babe, the underlying imaginary technology still works."
This is just... all the tech bros.

Bart doesn't have any line. Now, this means Dan Castellaneta is the only actor to have lines in every episode.

You can really hear the years on Shearer hear but it's only obvious when he voices Mr. Burns. And yeah, that's an old man character but he is clearly sounds more aged now.

Peter Coyote does narration in the second half and I actually thought it was Albert Brooks for a while.

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXXIV

Hey, it's another Halloween. Despite my distaste for them, I tended to keep up with these episodes after I was done with the show. This is the first time through the watch where I didn't!

In this episode, three more spooky tales of terror. First, in a parody of Snowpiercer, Bart is turned into an NFT and Marge goes into the blockchain to save him, in the form of a train. She learns that the more NFTs are destroyed by her, the more value she has to get to the front of the train. Meanwhile, Homer is tempted by Burns to sell Bart but instead turns himself into an NFT just as the market crashes. Then, in a parody of 90s serial killer thrillers (namely Se7en and Silence of the Lambs), we see an alternate universe where Bart was murdered by Sideshow Bob at the end of Cape Feare. Lisa is traumatized and grows up to be a criminology professor. Someone is killing people about Lisa's age with the message that each victim is the "first". After a tense meeting with Bob for advice, she realizes "first" isn't for victim, it's "first born" and that the killer is her. It turns out Lisa has a split personality and got caught on purpose to get close to and finally exact revenge on Bob with the help of a guard, who is Maggie. In the final tale, a parody of pandemic thrillers like Outbreak, the Crazies and Contagion, Homer eats a bad donut and accidentally creates a virus that spreads and turns people into Homer. With the Simpsons kids the only one immune, Frink uses them to track down the original Homer to try to put things back to normal. But even the sight of a Homerized Marge doesn't make Homer want to change and when he accidentally turns Frink into a Homer, the world ends up doomed to a worldwide Homer outbreak.

After last year's stellar Halloween special, this one was actually a letdown. The first story is about NFTs and despite the appearance of actual Kylie Jenner, the episode pretty much comes down on NFTs are dumb. That said, I feel like the Simpsons has been better lately on understanding and mocking modern techbro stuff but this is more like Frinkcoin; I don't think Jeff Westbrook's script actually has a lot to say in regards to them. Like, I feel like it's clear he thinks it's dumb and tries to present the market as stupid based purely on FOMO but I feel like it really lacks insight. It's more about the fun of Marge fighting NFTs and there are some cute moments, overall, it left me feeling empty, some good direction aside.

The second story, on the other hand, is the strongest of the three; a loving parody of the ridiculousness of 90s thrillers. Yes, it's mostly referencing the good ones but Jessica Conrad's script is all about having fun with the ridiculously elaborate nature of the kills and art in those films, as well as the "split personality" twist that has been used so often in Se7en/Lambs wannabes. At the same time, while it built out of tropes, it is a fun ride in itself and while I wasn't terribly surprised by the twist, it was funny and had some great visual gags, such as Sherry's body being turned into an elaborate game of Mousetrap.

The final story... I just feel like the commentary has been done before in this show on a Halloween special. Now I can't point to the specific episode but yeah, it feels like we've been there. Now Dan Vebber's episode has a point which is we need experts and regulation to prevent the world from self-destructing and I like that it does end on a dark note, like The Crazies. It's clearly a response to COVID and how people were very much in denial of the threat and how aggravating and terrifying that was. I appreciate that while it is a little while out from that, we still need to be mindful about it. I think my big thing is the humour fails to entirely land. I do respect the dark but goofy path Vebber was heading towards but wish it just made me laugh more.

Other great jokes:
"Ah! My baby is an app."
"No, apps actually do things."

"The killer left a message and we think it's for you."

"Here he had one of those moments where he walked into the room and forgot why?"
"How did our guys miss that?"


Johnny Unusual

Iron Marge

Mike Scully is one of the Simpsons truly great writers. Looking at his episodes, there's only one I would call a dud. But that episode is one I also feel like inhabits the problems with him as showrunner. A good writer is not always a good showrunner; Douglas Adams run on Doctor Who was considered by many fans to be a little weak when he wasn't writing. Many writers praised him as an organizer and manager but he was also the one who helped enable the show's worst instincts, a show that became more mean-spirited and wacky, giving rise to jerk-ass Homer. Frankly, I have a bigger issue with Al Jean's longer tenure of mediocrity, ill-advised guest stars and increasingly lazy structuring but while the seasons he worked on had problems, there were still good episodes. Scully stopped writing the show in 2002 with the pretty darned funny How I Spent My Strummer Vacation... and didn't return until 21 years later...

In this episode, Bart and Lisa come to realize their homemade gifts aren't good enough for Marge anymore and after earning some money from Flanders, head to the store to get Marge a nice housecoat. But before they do, they become tempted by a cool spy kit for the same price. The kids by the spy kit but get Marge a couple of ironing board covers. The kids are proud of themselves until they use their spy kit to discover that Marge feels unappreciated and they soon feel ashamed. Worse, they realize how little they know about their mother. So they decide to break into her memory box and discover she once had a parrot named Petey that was given away and notice she was crying the day he left. They decide to track down Petey several towns over and eventually bring him home after a long mission. However, it turns out Marge didn't miss Petey at all; he was a royal terror and harassed Marge until the family gave her away. The kids feel bad but Marge, learning what the kids went through to get Petey made her feel seen.

Man, I didn't even notice who wrote this episode until I was done the episode but I was really happy with it throughout. It's kind of low stakes classic sitcom stuff, I saw the ending coming mostly and it's an arc I feel this family has been through a lot but just the quality of the jokes, the way things play out and the performances made this a really good episode. Mostly, it's very funny. Mike Scully, writer of such classics as Lisa's Rival, Lisa on Ice and the 100% best episode Marge Be Not Proud, still has it. A few other writers, GOOD writers, tried to return and it's been a mixed bag. David M. Stern's Kamp Krusty sequel, for example, tried not to hinge too much on nostalgia for the classic episode but still felt a bit subpar. This, however, feels like Scully still knows how exactly to approach these characters.

I think it also helps that Scully, despite being blamed for Jerkass Homer, really knows how to write his characters sympathetically but still amusingly. Many episodes have Bart and Lisa being jerks to each other while Scully definitely has them in some brother/sister bickering and busting each other's chops but they still definitely like each other. Meanwhile, Homer is in a perfectly Homery b-plot where he's very silly and self-serving but it doesn't make him too unpleasant. The moral is second to the silliness but the balance is still there are Homer tries to get to the top of a safety apps leaderboard by getting in a fearmongering war with Agnes Skinner.

Mostly, it's an episode that really knows how to deliver it's punches. The jokes are good but I think it's a great marriage of good gags, game voice acting and Matthew Faughnan's directing. Matthew's actually been on the show for quite a while, having delivered some good looking episodes and this one just overall feels really strong. It's funny because there are more ambitious, original and clever episodes but just being overall strong with lots of solid gags all over made me take notice. And really, I've said this for a while, a lot of those other problems I had with some episodes would fade away easier if it was just... really funny. Fingers crossed that Scully decides to pen a few more before the show ends.

Other great jokes:

"Where are we going to get money? Otto stopped paying for clean urine."

"Now Lisa's cool too! And there's nothing we can do about it."
"Yes. Cry, Sherri, cry."

"No, you're name isn't Frink. You're Frink's monster."
"Frink sad."

"She's feeling unseen?"
"What? I see her in my phone contacts all the time under Mom, Mommy and Sandwich."

"What, the broken sprinkler?"
"We need to warn people. It could cause a sink hole or activate a gremlin."

"You smell like old lady."
"So do you."
"I smell like a lot of things."

"Hey, greasestain, seen this bird?"
"Yeah, I know him. That's Krista's bird. Is he in some kinda trouble?"

I love the recurring gag of Bart telling grown ups to stay in town and they reluctantly do.

I've seen this joke before but Homer looking at Agnes, smiling and contently saying "She's horrible" really works.