400. You Kent Always Say What You Want

(originally aired May 20, 2007)
It’s so strange that it’s taken to episode four-hundred to do a show about Kent Brockman. With its enormous bevy of colorful characters, the show became hobbled by an over reliance of Homer-gets-a-job and other redundant, over tread stories involving the Simpson family, that the secondary cast became relegated to their normal, one-off-joke roles. So will this episode cast Kent in a new light, give us some insight into his character and who he is? Well… not really. It’s a huge missed opportunity more than anything. While doing a fluff piece on Smartline, Kent gets hot coffee knocked into his lap and screams an expletive on live TV. When media watchdogs catch wind of it, he is promptly fired, and for some reason, comes to live with the Simpsons. Free of any network ties, Lisa convinces Kent to broadcast on the Internet, and expose the duplicitous nature of national news. But just as it starts getting popular, Kent is bought out by the Republican Party and the episode is over.

Like many people in Springfield, at one point Kent gave a shit about his job, but eventually became so beaten and bogged down he donned his chuckle head news anchor mask to pimp Channel 6’s programming and bullshit local “news” stories like an oafish man buying an ice cream cone. That frustration comes through, and his Edward R. Murrow-esque black-and-white venting is interesting to see. The issue, though, is by the time we get to this point, there’s literally two minutes of show left. The story with Kent doesn’t even start until the halfway point. I feel act one should have ended with him getting fired, then they could have built him up more. Instead act two is him getting caught by psycho conservative watchdog Flanders. Also, besides the point of why the fuck Kent is staying at the Simpsons specifically, but isn’t he rich? We see he lives in a mansion all the time from his lotto winnings. Then the Republicans buy him off at the end, but if he was wealthy, why would it win him over? They could’ve thrown in a line about how he lost his earnings or whatever, but instead, it’s like they don’t give a shit. An episode with great potential, but ultimately just flops about and made no real impact.

Tidbits and Quotes
– It’s a big waste of time from starting the actual story, but there’s a few good bits in the first act. Marge and Maggie kicking ass at Pictionary is a really cute scene, but the montage of her running home Raising Arizona style goes on way too long. It’s over a full minute of just running, but feels so much longer. At the dentist’s office, we get perhaps the best celebrity cameo in years, an absurd dental hygiene video hip to the young audience. Street hoodlums Gingivitis and gum disease shoot up a mouth’s teeth until… Luda-Crest shows up to throw down. It’s so incredibly bizarre and messed up, but I loved it. His appearance as himself in the office demanding they stop showing the video is great too, especially how Bart walks past Ludacris, who is armed with a gun, without even noticing. Then Bart fucks with Skinner who’s under anesthetic, by kicking a giant tooth into his mouth, spraying his insides with water, and holding an X-ray to his crotch for an extended period of time. It’s like all the stuff from “Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ‘Em,” this goes beyond the level of prank, and just becomes like torture. Bart wants to humiliate Skinner to others, not harm him.
– I do like how after Kent’s faux-pas, initially no one gave a shit since no one watches TV news anymore. Who will sound the alarm? Who the fuck do you think? At the dinner table, they talk about media watchdogs, and Bart asks, “You mean there are losers who spend all day watching TV looking for stuff to complain about? Who’d be lame enough to do that?” Cut to Flanders huddled in front of the TV, bathed in its toxic glow, with stacks of offensive tapes all around him, writing down every questionable thing he can find (“Smallville: Superdog licks himself. That definitely goes in the naughty pile.”) He sees the Smartline tape and immediately hits the Internet to bitch and moan. His kids ask him what he’s doing, and he says this: “Imploring people I’ve never met to pressure a government with better things to do to punish a man who meant no harm for saying something that nobody even saw, that’s what I’m doing!” These episodes put Flanders in such a negative light, he’s not supposed to be an antagonist subject to ridicule. Even his kids are concerned with him (“Daddy, we think you need a new Mommy.”) And that’s when it hit me: maybe all this psycho Christian bullshit is a result of Maude’s death. “Hurricane Neddy” showed how he’s bottled his anger and channeled it into religion; after his wife’s death, he just became even crazier, and that’s why we get conservative militant Flanders. It’s most depressing, and most definitely not the writers intention, but it’s a bit of a new light I can see this character through. But I still hate it. I hate what they’ve done to Flanders. Hate hate hate.
– I like the bit with Krusty dubbing over the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, as they couldn’t afford to play the voice actors (a reference to the high salaries of the Simpsons actors?) It’s great how he names the show title, but then can’t remember the character names (“Here comes the mouse, what’s-his-name…”)
Why in the name of God and the baby Jesus would Kent Brockman stay with the Simpsons? Besides the fact that he’s got his mansion which is never mentioned, he must have friends, family, casual acquaintances… but no, instead he stays with these complete strangers for no apparent reason.
– Strange to say, but the FOX bashing seems almost too on-the-nose in this show. This is a consistent theme with all humor on this show: it used to be done subtly and slyly, and now it’s too blatant, hit-you-on-the-head style of comedy. Showing the dichotomy between FOX and FOX News is not shocking, then Kent openly explains the negatives behind it. Then the show ends with Homer and Lisa discussing a horrible secret about FOX, and being “dubbed” over. When the whole last act of your show is “Fuck FOX,” it doesn’t hold as much power when you’re still being aired on that network and making them millions by airing this episode.

Season 18 Final Thoughts
To this season’s credit, we got three episodes that were actually pretty good. Usually my “Best” list contains the one or two shows that weren’t as eye-piercingly bad as the rest, but these three are some of the best episodes I’ve seen in a long, long time. But, unfortunately, the other nineteen are as fucking bad as the show’s ever been. So, silver lining, I suppose.

The Best
“Homerazzi,” “Marge Gamer,” “24 Minutes”

The Worst
“Jazzy and the Pussycats,” “G.I. D’oh!,” “Little Big Girl,” “Springfield Up,” “The Boys of Bummer,” “Crook and Ladder”

399. 24 Minutes

(originally aired May 20, 2007)
I feel almost ill equipped to review this episode, in that I think I’ve only seen a grand total of three minutes of 24. But, then again, an effective parody should also cater to those who have never seen the source material, and this show manages to tell its story in an interesting way. Even with no extended knowledge of 24, I was able to pick out what I recognized from the series, and also other dramatic thriller cliches I’m sure the show utilizes frequently. We open with Skinner introducing his own CTU, the Counter Truancy Unit, which is an hyper-sophisticated, technologically advanced super lab. Right away, you’re removing yourself from the normal reality since this is so sensationalist, but it’s good that they kick it off right away; it’s like getting a warning right before a clip show. Skinner and Lisa are hot on the trail of the bullies, who are planning to develop a stink bomb to set off at the school bake sale. With all their field agent incapacitated, Skinner must begrudgingly turn to Bart to stop the bullies before they reek havoc (get it? Reek? Heh heh…)

24 was one of those shows that was so big, even without watching it, I knew elements of it purely through cultural osmosis. The show takes place within an hour, the multiple split screens, Bauer being in communicate with the girl in the lab… The show hits all those beats, and even derides them, like with certain scenes where the split screens are of shots close together that they overlap. The story is investing enough, with several different premises converging at the end in a satisfying way. We get to see characters like Martin and the bullies used as part of an actual story, instead of being flat one-note props. The only thing this show was lacking for me was jokes; nothing humor-wise offended me, but a lot of the gags just kind of laid there with me. But in the end, I ended up not minding too much. This was a really neat episode to watch; it’s like taking the universe and placing it in this new mindset and tackling a different kind of show, and even if you don’t know 24 too well, you can still recognize the major beats and parodies anyway.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I liked all the different chyrons for all our characters (Homer Simpson: ATM User, Devoted Father of Two; Marge Simpson: Unemployed)
– Bart requests blueprints of Jimbo’s house, but the closest thing on file are some drawings Jimbo made in second grade (Lisa can’t vouch for their accuracy). Bart is flabbergasted they turn out to be inaccurate (“Where’s the roller coaster room? And the shark tank?”)
– Even with no knowledge of 24, I appreciated the guest spot by Jack Bauer, and… that woman… Chloe; Bart busting the balls of a man under fire and laughing about it is pretty entertaining.
– The whole plot is pretty streamlined to me. I like that they include the bit where Marge drops the cake on the way into the bake sale, and leaves two sizable dents in the hood of the car; it’s a well animated sequence, and also sets up how rock solid the thing is.
– Pretty alarming, and kind of awesome, the beatdown that Bart gives Nelson. He throws him against that locker pretty hard.
– Oh no, more questionable CG. It’s a lot better than that corn maze, since here it’s going through the air vents. Perfectly geometrical, so it doesn’t look too bad. What does look bad is the integrated 2D, where we see Uter in a spider web and Miss Hoover and Santa’s Little Helper passed out drunk. They’re so flat against the CG, but a bigger problem is how small they are. Either these are the largest air vents ever constructed, or Miss Hoover has shrunk to about two feet tall.
– The Marin suicide bit. The mole/big bad’s henchman has an “oh God, what have I done?” moment and decides to dramatically take his own life, except here, the fake-out is perfect, where he hangs himself… from a coat hanger giving himself a wedgie. They made a suicide joke work, because it was about something else, parodying an identifiable moment in thrillers.
– Wiggum tries to free Bart from his watery grave by firing his gun repeatedly at the glass, aiming for his forehead each and every time. Does this guy have it out for Bart at this point?

398. Stop or My Dog Will Shoot

(originally aired May 13, 2007)
So, in this episode, some stuff happened… yeah, this one certainly wasn’t as aggressively terrible as the last two, but I found it pretty damn boring. We open at a harvest fair set piece where the Simpsons get lost in a corn maze. They manage to get out, save Homer of course, who’s been a real joy to watch this whole first act. And by that, of course, I mean he’s been insufferably loud and obnoxious. Santa’s Little Helper picks up his scent and rescues him, which then springboards into him being trained as a police dog. He gets teamed up with Lou, and it becomes like a buddy cop movie, where he talks to him like he’s a human, and like he’s the renegade cop that needs to be talked down and told to take it easy. It sounds dumb, but I didn’t mind, it was actually kind of endearing. Also, Lou and Eddie are basically props at this point in the series, so it was nice to see one of them get some more screen time.

SLH becomes such a hardcore police dog, in a heated moment he bites Bart’s leg. I guess we’re supposed to feel sad for him and hope they reconciliation at the end, but I dunno. These shows feel so emotionally empty now; the era of “Dog of Death” was a long, looooong time ago. Bart gets a replacement pet, a deadly python, which none of the family objects to for some reason. He takes it to show-and-tell, it gets loose, knocks over some chemicals at the school, it’s evacuated, SLH rushes in and saves the day and makes up with Bart. Yawn. There’s a moment where the dog rushes in and nudges open Bart’s locker, and Lou understands that he misses his previous owner it pretty sweet. Hell, I’m more invested in their relationship than Bart and SLH, bizarrely enough. There’s a few token bits here that were kind of nice, but largely it was just a dull twenty minutes.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer is intolerable in the first act, with so many bits of him screaming that go on way too long: him trying to find the missing pine cone First Ladys, the endless bit of him thinking Marge wanted them to split up, getting electrocuted by the corn maze fence… Just leave him to die in there, I could care less at this point.
– More crummy cel-shaded 3D with the corn maze, where 2D characters are integrated in the CG rows of corn. It looks like crap. Also, Stephen Hawking is in the maze for some Godforsaken reason, in his third appearance. It’s strangely like Futurama in that he’s done three guest spots on both shows: the first being a larger part, and the latter two basically cameos. Except Futurama utilized him in a funny way all three times, and here, only his first I would consider good.
– I liked Bart’s dream of being rescued by SLH as Robocop, after he’d been cornered by Jason, Pinhead and a giant math book that bleeds out equations.
– How big is the Springfield Police Force? For new recruits, they have ten dogs, five horses and a dolphin. Considering the only police officers were see are Wiggum, Lou and Eddie, the force seems to have more animals than humans.
– I remember FOX marketed the episode solely on Bart getting the python; if the show isn’t focused on either Homer or Bart, they have to run promos featuring them heavily anyway. Also, Homer getting hurt is preferable, so every promo showed him getting strangled by the snake.
– Martin’s rabbit hopping inside the python’s gullet as it slowly gets digested into nothing as Bart stands by with a blank look on his face is a wonderfully grim gag.
– SLH drags Bart out of the building, just so Wiggum can snatch him and hog all the credit (“Hero cop saves boy! Hero cop saves boy!”) Remember two episode ago when he was urging him to commit suicide? I do. When did Wiggum become such a negative character?

397. Crook and Ladder

(originally aired May 6, 2007)
It’s almost like I’m being punished; two surprisingly great episodes in a row, followed by two of the worst episodes of the season, perhaps of the entire series. From beginning to end, this one is just nonsensical garbage. We start with Maggie losing her shit when Marge takes away her pacifier, which ends up getting replaced by a squeaky dog toy. The noises keep Homer up at night and he develops insomnia. Why are none of the other family members affected? No reason given. He turns to drugs to get him to sleep, namely a product called Nappein. You know, like Ambien? We’re getting closer and closer to Mapple territory; making a thinly veiled parody specific to one product really limits the range and possibilities of your jokes. This turns him into a sleepwalking mess which Bart takes advantage of, and through a series of ridiculous events that hurt my brain to think about, he crashes his car into the fire station and ends up incapacitating the entire crew. The way this happens is so mind-bogglingly cartoony, and makes absolutely no sense. But whatever, it’s time for Homer the Firefighter! Another fucking job!

Homer, Apu, Skinner and Moe becomes volunteer fire fighters, and grow accustomed to reaping the fringe benefits from the people they save. But eventually Moe figures that they can just steal shit from local residents and businesses under the lie that items were fire damaged. And everyone just goes along with this, with Skinner as the lone ethical hold-out.¬†Moe is a lecherous reprobate, so I can see him doing this. Homer at this point is a brainless sociopathic crazy person, his characterization is out the window, so whatever. But Apu? No way in hell. They just walk out of stores carrying stolen shit in broad daylight, and no one says a thing. Marge witnesses this thievery and forces him to go clean. This involves saving Moe and Apu from a burning building, and him being regarded as a hero. Does he ever confess his misdeeds? No. Does he stop being a fire fighter? No, but he sure won’t be one next week. What about all the shit he stole? Instead of return it to the stores, we see he’s given them away to homeless people, as we see bums on Segways waiting at the soup kitchen. Wonderful. The store knows Segways were lost, and are gonna see these guys riding them and think that they stole them, and they’ll be arrested. No lessons were learned, Homer suffers no repercussions for his actions, and nobody seems to care. The writers clearly didn’t. And neither do I. Fuck this episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The first few minutes of show concern Maggie throwing a fit after Marge tosses her pacifier, and Homer is unable to find her regular brand. When she replaces it with a dog squeak toy, I knew at some point later in the show, we’d see her again with her regular pacifier. And sure enough, we do. It’s not like I give a shit how she got a new one, it just says that what I spent watching in act one was a complete waste of time.
– My God… the mood swings joke. Twenty-two seconds has never felt so long listening to Homer scream, “Mood swings!” over… and over… and over…
– Homer fucks up the exhibits at a wax museum, and then later is personally responsible for smashing his car in the fire house and injuring everyone inside, but of course, he’s never held accountable for any of it. Same with the end where he never gets brought to task for his many thefts. He’s invincible!
– Okay, so here’s how the firemen get incapacitated. This is incredible. Homer plows his car into the fire station, knocking over a pot of chili boiling on the stove, which is on despite all the firemen sleeping, and also bending the fire men’s pole ninety degrees. Homer smashes through the windshield and triggers the fire alarm. The fire men get up, slide down the pole, get thrown down the hall sliding on the chili and slam against the wall. Then hungry Dalmatians maul them because they’re smothered in the chili. But why are the dogs vicious? Wouldn’t they just be fervently licking them, instead of mauling them off-screen? It just doesn’t make any sense… but then again, why should it? Do I expect any different at this point?
– It’s stunning how little life our supporting cast has left in them. Skinner just barely puts up a protest about the shenanigans in act three, and Apu barely says a goddamn thing as he proceeds to steal up a storm. Again, why the fuck is he doing this?
– Marge and the kids follow the fire trucks to see Homer in action. They’re on the sidewalk right in front of the store next door as Moe, Apu and Homer are all outside as they’re making off with the loot. How the fuck do they not see Marge standing right there?
– I feel like the montage of the kids looking sad trivializes Homer’s dilemma, it almost seems like it’s a big guilt trip for him to relent and change his ways, instead of him acknowledging that he’s breaking the law and should stop on his own.
– With thirty seconds of show left, we see crowds cheering for Homer, and then a slow push-in on the big oaf’s dumb smiling face. It’s stunning; he’s gotten away with all this shit, and they give him a fucking hero moment at the end? Then we get the actual end where he instead of giving the stuff back to their rightful owners, he gave them to hobos. Wonderful. What a wonderful fucking scumbag.

396. The Boys of Bummer

(originally aired April 29, 2007)
Whelp, after two surprisingly good shows, we’re back to basics, here in the most abjectly cruel episode ever. The Springfield Little League team the Isotots are heading for their championship game, after a game-winning catch from Bart. The town is totally psyched about this potential grasp at piddling fame, which I guess is the joke, but the severity on what’s riding on the game is undercut by its utter insignificance. Shelbyville is down by three near the end, but a major fumble in left field by Bart ends up losing the entire game. And the crowd boos. Oh, how they boo, and throw things at this poor, defenseless child. This abuse continues throughout the next few days, grown adults deriding and degrading this ten-year-old to the point where he starts crying. I know the townspeople are quick to turn on people, and the gag involves how serious people take sports, but this is just going way too far over. They were out for blood when Bart cut off the head of Jebediah Springfield, that I can buy giving its symbolism, but here, the kid just lost a fucking Little League game, who the fuck cares?

Eventually, Bart snaps and vandalizes the entire town writing “I HATE BART SIMPSON,” ending with him hanging off a water tower. And then he lets himself fall. After Chief Wiggum tells him to jump. Let me repeat that. Chief Wiggum goaded a ten-year-old boy into killing himself. Earlier right after the game, he lets Bart in his squad car, only to drive him back in the stadium, put the top down (somehow) so spectators could throw shit at him. What a fucking asshole. But back to brass tacks, Bart has just had a emotional breakdown and attempted suicide. Act three begins with him in the hospital… and the townspeople are outside as a mob still screaming and yelling at Bart. What in the mother of fuck is wrong with these people? It’s absolute insanity that they’re acting like this, and worse off, when Marge finally chews them out, Moe steps forward, speaking for the crowd, to give the most begrudging of apologies (“Okay, Midge, you made us feel bad about what we done to your boy.”) Oh, you mean drive him to kill himself? The ending involves them going through great, moronic lengths to recreate the big game, but at this point I’m already too incensed to get any angrier. The people of Springfield are impulsively, easily-swayed morons, but this episode just made them monsters.

Tidbits and Quotes
– There’s a B-story here too, involving Homer being a mattress salesman (another occupation checked off). He helps the Lovejoys find a bed to help improve their love life, only to end up selling his own “miracle” mattress. But when that impedes he and Marge’s snuggling, they break into the Lovejoys to get it back. This premise doesn’t tie into the main story at all, so while Bart is busy being tormented, and attempting to take his own life, we cut back to this plot with a completely different tone. In act three, we go from Bart in the hospital to Homer and Bart in burglar outfits sneaking about Lovejoy’s house. Their son almost killed himself and they still give a shit about that fucking mattress? The plot ends with them getting half a mattress, and they proceed to make love outdoors while a disgusting homeless man watches and proceeds to fondle Homer’s love handles. What. The. Fuck.
– I liked Homer’s search for the “husband chair” at Costington’s. He tries to snatch one until Wiggum gets there first and trains a gun at him (“My wife’s looking for a bathing suit that doesn’t make her look horsey, so I’m gonna be here a while.”) He aims and cocks his gun at an innocent man, and that’s not the worst thing he does in this episode.
– After being so pleased with Homer and Lisa’s behavior the last two shows, they’re back to “normal” now (“All this fuss for a baseball game? Why don’t thousands come to watch a teacher inspire a child?” “Why, it did happen! Just yesterday, in Crazy Town!“) Homer then later sells out Bart right after the game, while everyone else does nothing. The vitriol from the entire town against Bart is so strong, why did it take so long for Marge to get on the defensive?
– The ending makes absolutely no sense to me, and really serves to demean Bart more. They stage an elaborate rematch of the game, then convince Bart he’s allotted over seventy “re-dos” when he can’t catch the ball. Is he that stupid that he doesn’t question what’s going on? And that the whole town would go along with this nonsense when days before, they were out to watch this kid die? The very end with the cut to the future makes it even worse, where Bart recalls that game as the greatest moment of his life, having never been exposed to the lie. It makes him seem absolutely pathetic, whereas before I had the utmost sympathy toward him. Then the spirits of Homer and Marge show up and talk about ghost sex. Okay. One of the worst episodes ever.