424. Treehouse of Horror XIX

Treehouse of Horror XIX(originally aired November 2, 2008)
And finally we come to the last Treehouse of Horror on my roster, and guess what. It sucks. First is “Untitled Robot Parody,” starring Transformers, because when I think Halloween, I think of fucking Transformers. There’s no real story here, just a bunch of jokes about robots forming from regular appliances and machines. Honestly, there’s a million things to rip on about Transformers, and they don’t even try. Next is “How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising,” where ad executives convince Homer to kill off celebrities so they can reap the profits of using their images royalty-free. Again, no plot. Homer is a psychopath and murders dozens, the celebrities rain down from heaven and kill him. The end. Lastly is “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse,” which if you’ve gathered, is a parody of the Peanuts Halloween special. I can kind of appreciate the care that went into this segment, with attempts at watercolor backgrounds and mimicking the animation style of the classic short in some shots, but there’s not much else here. Of course the Great… or Grand Pumpkin was going to turn out to be a monster, then you’re just waiting for the thing to end. And so there you have it: as I’ve mentioned before, what once were season highlights are now as boring and uninspired as the rest of the crop. That is the tragic rise and fall… of the Treehouse of Horror.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open with Homer voting in the 2008 election, a segment that ages quite well. I guess well enough that they effectively reused the same joke this year for 2012. An odd thing about this episode I noticed was the inconsistency of violence. The opening ends with Homer getting sucked into the voting machine, we hear buzz saws and him getting horribly maimed, then he’s spit out, just looking a little haggard, no blood whatsoever. Then we get to the second segment, which features a rather long shot of Krusty getting fed into a wood chipper, with blood spewing out and him screaming in agony, perhaps the most uncomfortable scene in the entire series, until he is reduced to a mangled pile of flesh and organs. Then later, Krusty shoots Homer with a shotgun, which causes his head to literally explode on camera. Jesus, I’m no prude, but can we find a happy medium with this violence, please?
– Homer gets into his car, which then transforms into a robot with him inside it. And the shading changes from pink to red and blue like Optimus Prime. Alright. This leaves Homer sticking out of the robot’s anus, which it has for some reason. This only serves to remind me of the amazing bit from Clerks the Animated Series where we saw people run into a car, then it transforms into a robot, and we see blood gushing out of it as everyone inside is instantly crushed.
– The first segment ends with the two main robots facing off, one being the Malibu Stacey car Bart got. But, it was like a toy size, now it’s humungous. Oh, who cares.
– Act two opens with a parody of the Mad Men opening. Or, rather, it is the Mad Men opening with Simpsons characters in it. It’s the Family Guy mistake where you confuse making a reference to actually doing a parody. How does this lampoon Mad Men in any way? It’s just another attempt for the series to appear relevant by referencing a current item in pop culture.
– Honestly, with Homer’s behavior over the last decade, I don’t bat an eye at him just murdering celebrities and getting away with it. This could basically be a normal episode at this point. I did wince a bit when he went after Neil Armstrong, although his death thankfully wasn’t gory.
– I did like Jimmy Stewart blocking the gates of Heaven, and zombie John Lennon (“All we are saying, is let’s eat some brains!!”)
– Abe Lincoln is gay! Isn’t homosexuality hilarious, everybody? Isn’t it?
– There’s not much in the way of parodying Peanuts in the third segment either. It’s a love letter to the short more than anything. And I love at the end they have Marge appear to comment, “And to those who feel like we’ve trampled on a beloved children’s classic…” Like this is their idea of “edgy.” Please. There’s an amazing subtle joke in an old South Park where the boys are watching and complaining about A Charlie Brown Christmas, then right before commercial in the background, we see on the TV a naked Charlie Brown and Snoopy is bludgeoning him with a giant stick. That’s trampling on a classic.
– This episode kind of had a minor controversy with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (whoever they are), who took issue with Nelson using the word “gay” to taunt Milhouse with. Curious they get upset now; for the last few seasons, there’s been a derogatory gay joke or slur about every other episode. But I guess since this was the Halloween show it had more viewers. I’m sure the writers were just glad to get the publicity for a day or two before it blew over.
– The pumpkin patch is right behind the school. Milhouse runs away from the Grand Pumpkin, somehow ending up at the Simpson house. Then he runs to the school. What? Are people even test-screening these shows anymore?
– I do like the racist pumpkin bit (“I’d rather die than hate!” “Pumpkin segregation forever!”)

423. Double, Double, Boy in Trouble

Double, Double, Boy in Trouble(originally aired October 19, 2008)
The first act of this show almost feels like leftovers from the last episode, featuring Homer and Marge fed up with an out-of-control Bart, who is a rambunctious little brat who causes mischief because he can. I actually didn’t mind most of it on that front… until the plot begins. After the fallout of one of his pranks at a fancy dinner party, Bart encounters Simon Wusterfield, ten-year-old little rich boy who happens to look just like him! And shock of shockers, they switch places so they can experience each other’s lives! Four hundred and twenty three episodes in, we’re honestly doing The Prince and the fucking Pauper? Also, I seem to recall the comics doing a similar story a decade back where Bart swaps places with a pop star doppelganger. I’m confused by the motivations here. Bart appears to be almost remorseful and befuddled by his behavior, when you’d think he would be resentful of his parents and want to live unrestricted, which is why he’d want Simon’s carefree life. Again, it seems like someone mixed up pages of this script and “Lost Verizon” and no one noticed.

Once they make the switch, everything becomes absolutely boring. Simon is a non-character; no effort is made to explain why he’d want a commoner’s life, and we spend most of the entirety of the episode on Bart anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Bart eats up his spacious mansion, and is high on the hog until he encounters Simon’s half-siblings, who are set on offing him to collect their family fortune. He’s warned of their intentions by Mr. Burns, and Simon and the Simpsons must save Bart, and then they do, and the episode’s over. It’s just an exercise in watching the familiar plot beats, listening to the character’s exposit their every move, and waiting for twenty minutes to be up. There are a few token funny and sweet moments, but most of them are buried under humorless bits and lots of ridiculous shit. Also, again, thePrince and the Pauper? Really, you guys? Really?

Tidbits and Quotes
– The exposition-filled dialogue starts off right away (“Ponder this, Homer, this ticket could have been yours if your kid hadn’t been screwing around!”) No shit?
– Odd we have Homer incensed by Bart’s bad behavior and Marge quick to write it off, whereas their viewpoints were reversed in the past in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie.” I actually like some of the stuff in act one with Marge getting worn down by Bart’s shenanigans too, her having to wear her backup dress and it ripping when she goes to scold Bart after the party fiasco. I feel they could have merged the good parts of this and “Lost Verizon” into a good character-focused episode. Instead we get Machu Picchu and the Prince and the Pauper. Ah well.
– Lenny’s party is laugh-free, with his extended introduction and him singing “Thank You for Being a Friend.” Where are the jokes? And Bart setting off all the Roombas… just stupid.
– I don’t like that Burns mentions the Wusterfield fortune is greater than his; he’s supposed to be the richest man in Springfield. We never even see Simon’s parents, or find out what they do, or why they’re so rich; anything to make him any semblance of a character.
– The conversation between Burns and Bart is basically all exposition, where he flat out mentions the half-siblings might strike during a ski trip, and then later he appears in a thought bubble to reiterate that before they go off to Aspen.
– “Welcome to Aspen. Population: White” is a good gag, as are the sophisticated winos.
– Homer rescues Bart by, how else, being a reckless insane person. He yells, “This looks like a job for Captain Crazy!” before jumping off the chair lift and rolling down the mountain, forming a giant snowball that sucks Bart in for a wacky action sequence! Oh, brother.
– Even though the episode didn’t really earn it, the ending with Marge tucking in Bart is pretty sweet.

422. Lost Verizon

Lost Verizon(originally aired October 5, 2008)
The Simpson family has always seemed to remain curiously out of time and out of date, so it’s always been a little weird seeing them grappling with new technology. It wasn’t until the early 2000s where they finally gave Homer a computer, and now we have Bart clamoring to get his hands on a cell phone like every other kid in school. Denied by his parents, he eventually finds one that belonged to Denis Leary, who Bart proceeds to fuck with. The show then becomes basically a love letter to Leary, who is name dropped and lauded by characters numerous times, ending in him demanding Marge get her kid under control. He informs her of the tracking chip in his phone so she can keep an eye on him at all times. Marge is able to show up and stop Bart’s many shenanigans, until he catches wise to her actions. Bart then attaches the chip to the leg of a bird, leading the Simpsons on a wild chase that ends with them scouring Machu Picchu. …huh?

Under the surface there’s actually a potentially good premise here, of Marge learning that she needs to let her son go out in the world and experience things for himself, without her being a constant safety blanket. It’s just too bad it takes until the halfway mark to introduce this point, and it’s not given the proper time to develop. Bart is left home alone in act three and finds himself petrified of the dark, which feels like an easy solution of showing how he buckles without adult supervision. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers Bart’s trick with the chip strapped to the bird, but decides to hide that information because she really wants to go to Peru. So they drove all the way through Mexico to get there, without once thinking why the fuck Bart would be going there, and how was he going so fast. Or, better yet, why not call the goddamn cell phone and find out where Bart is? These logic gaps are just humungous. There’s some isolated moments here that work, which is high praise for a new episode, but everything around it sucks per usual.

Tidbits and Quotes
– There are a few nice things at the beginning, with Bart secretly enjoying Lisa’s tea party, Marge buying peas on an installment plan, and Dr. Hibbert’s aside comment to Dr. Nick when Bart fails to accomplish simple math (“This is why my kids go to private school.”)
– All the Denis Leary stuff is boring, just more ass-kissing (“Boston comedian turned movie star turned basic cable notable?”) Also, is there some kind of joke with him making Pop Tarts and dashing to catch them mid-air? I feel that might be a reference, or it might just be ordinary nonsense the show is prone to do.
– Marge seems nervous and conflicted about handing over the trackable phone to Bart, then seems completely cool and collected walking in to spy with Homer (“Did he take the bait?” “Like a big-mouthed bass.”)
– More needless, needless exposition (“Well, I could tell Mom and Dad the chip is on the bird and hope they take me to Machu Picchu another time, or…”) Yeah, Lisa is never brought to task for her actions, by the way.
– A lot of work went into this Peru stuff… I wish it made more sense, and was set up better than an offhand remark Lisa makes in two seconds in act one.

421. Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes

Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes(originally aired September 28, 2008)
This episode feels like someone just wrote the bare basic outline, and then they just went into writing it without developing anything. There have been plenty of shows like this, but this one feels particularly egregious, where we just hit the familiar plot beats so transparently: bonding scene, chase scene, dramatic “twist.” Everything is explained and laid out so openly so the dumbest of viewers can follow. After a drunken St. Patrick’s Day Parade brawl, Homer is arrested and must see a bail bondsman, because this is normal behavior for him now. Arriving there, he’s introduced to a bounty hunter, who, in one long piece of exposition, explains who he is and what he does, and Homer automatically decides to become one. He tracks down his first perp, Snake, and is saved from being shot in the face by Flanders, in one of the biggest cheats in the history of the series. The two end up becoming partners, just ’cause, and bonding in the process. But soon Flanders must take Homer to task for his past transgressions, as his last job is to bring him in.

Homer can’t stand Flanders, but I guess because he saved his life, he decides to team up. Then we see the two grow to like each other during a stakeout, a scene that just feels shoehorned in for the purpose in showing them growing on each other. They sing from Flanders’ white-washed AC/DC cover band, then Homer shows Flanders a new way to eat pizza… like, what the hell is this? Then we finish it off with a big two-minute chase across town in an overly elaborate and choreographed fashion, because parkour is popular and it’s a thing we can do to show we’re still relevant. I thought back to previous instances of over-the-top chases involving these characters. In “Homer the Heretic,” Flanders chases Homer in his car in a last ditch effort to bring him back to Christianity, which is the whole point of the episode. In “Homer Loves Flanders,” Homer latches onto Ned’s car a la the T-1000, a complete lunkhead who doesn’t realize he’s pushing his new friendship too far. He’s being dragged by a speeding car, but we buy it because it ties in with the theme and makes sense in the story. Here, Homer and Ned are agile acrobats doing backflips and jumping across cars on the highway for no particular reason. Anything to pad twenty minutes, I guess.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Small moments sometimes hurt and reveal the most. The Simpsons comment on the Springfield river being green for St. Patrick’s Day. Then Mr. Burns chimes in (“Actually, my nuclear plant did that. And now that you know, your life is in danger.”) Music sting. Tint fingers. Then he walks away. Why would Burns just openly mention this? And of course then the threat is deflated. Burns used to be a formidable force, an actually legitmate antagonist. Now he’s a toothless, doddering old fool who’s of no harm to anyone, unless the writers remember he’s supposed to be evil, then he becomes a one-dimensional cartoon super villain. None of this is new though. That’s why this blog has become so stale.
– Not only do we see that goddamn leprechaun again, now there’s an orange Northern Irish leprechaun for him to play with. And the Hulk and the Thing are there too. Oh wait, in court he says he’s the Mulk. Goddammit.
– There’s a B-story here too where Marge becomes an erotic baker. Okay. She works in the guy’s shop for what seems like a good amount of time, and yet doesn’t realize what’s going on until he comes clean. It’s just more awkward attempts at trying to be racy, but not understanding that saying “penis” on The Simpsons just isn’t funny in and of itself.
– The bounty hunter’s name is Wolf, and he looks like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Great work, guys.
– Gloria returns again, now pregnant with Snake’s child. Does the staff really love Julia Louis-Dreyfuss or something? Why does this character keep coming back?
– So Homer chases Snake down an alleyway, and Snake shoots at him. The bullet races towards his brain… bounces back and nabs him in the arm. What stopped it? Flanders, holding a big piece of bullet proof glass he was buying for the Leftorium. There’s an giant empty opening on the side of the building facing the alley he just happened to be in. And the glass he’s holding is nowhere near big enough to fill his store window. What a load of fucking shit.
– Homer’s obsession with his tazer reminds me of better times of him using mace on his eggs (“Mmmm… incapacitating.”)
– Fat Tony appears in this show, being arrested by Homer and Ned, and has no lines, but his grunts and gasps are done by Joe Mantegna. He’s famous for his love for the character, and saying that if Fat Tony so much as sneezes, he wants to do the voice. So, I guess they called his bluff. Couldn’t they have given him just one line though?
– “Marge, do we have any more of your extra long Twinkees?” “Oh no! Those were for Mr. Smithers’ commitment ceremony!” Sigh.
– “You hang onto resentment like a Confederate widow!” “I forgave you for accidentally killing my wife!” “Yeah, but you hold onto the big things!” I don’t know what to think about them actually acknowledging Homer’s hand in Maude’s death. It’s not like it changes anything; Homer brushes it right off. It’s just another example of the writers recognizing shoddy writing, or Homer doing something awful, and just joking around about it to fuck with the fans.
– Homer and Ned fall in wet concrete and are frozen shut in it, despite the fact they were standing on a beam held by an operating crane, so clearly there must be people at the construction site, or anywhere near by, who would have noticed them.

The Simpsons Ride

BB_horz_3_tcm13-5130(opened in Orlando April 23, 2008)
I don’t exactly know if this “counts” or designates a review… but then again, this is my blog. What do you mean it doesn’t “count,” I can write about whatever the hell I want. This whole blog was meant to chronicle my experiences as a fan, but there’s so much more that could include. Should I talk about the Simpsons video games? The Playmates action figures? The comic books? I could be here forever. I wanted to keep the blog exclusive to the show proper, but just as a bonus, I guess, I threw in the ride. This is mostly due to the fact that I was working at the Universal Studios backlot for the past year, and I’ve been on this ride at least a good thirty times over that period. So is it a good ride? Yeah, it’s actually a lot of fun. …oh right, I guess I should write more, huh.

The Back to the Future trilogy are amongst my favorite, favorite films. Ergo, I loved Back to the Future: The Ride, I thought it was just excellent. When I found out it was closing, I was really pissed, until I read the next sentence it was being replaced by a Simpsons ride. Swapping my favorite film for my favorite TV show? I guess that’s a fair enough substitute. For those who don’t know, the ride is a motion simulator; you get in a ride vehicle which faces a gigantic dome where they project a video, and the car dips, jerks and rocks in tandem with the film, so it seems like you’re actually moving. The story of the ride is that it’s the grand opening of a brand new ride at Krustyland, and you and the Simpsons have been chosen to be the first riders. Unfortunately, Sideshow Bob has escaped prison and seeks his revenge on the family, and what better way than test the still under construction roller coaster? In your own coaster car, you’re careening throughout the entire park as it falls apart around you, on a runaway ride that eventually takes you through the town of Springfield itself.
797px-The_Simpsons_Ride_Universal_Studios_FloridaIf I was smart, I would have taken plenty of photos of the ride building when I was there, but… nope. But I’m sure there’s plenty of pictures you can find online. The theming for the ride is awesome the entire way through. Entering Krusty’s wide-open mouth, you wait in the queue and are half-entertained by a variety of clips. I say this because half the time we get classic clips from episodes with amusement parks like “Itchy & Scratchy Land,” “Selma’s Choice” and “Lisa the Vegetarian.” The rest we get new animation of Krusty pimping his park of the Simpsons waiting in line. It really is jarring when you watch the sequence of clips back-to-back, just the stark difference between the two in terms of look and quality. The only new clip I care for is the one that ties back into Back to the Future. Dismayed at the closure of his colleague Doc Brown’s Institute of Future Technology (the building that housed the BTTF ride), Professor Frink goes back in time to save it, but only ends up causing the foreclosure to happen in the first place (“You idiot! You’ve ruined everything! Now I’ll have to sell the Institute of Future Technology to that mercenary clown!” “Mercenary clown? That’s me!”) Christopher Lloyd, of course, reprises his role as Doc Brown.

Entering the building, you’re surrounded by other booths “manned” by characters, like Patty & Selma at the lost and found, Willie running a carnival game, and Apu, of course, at the food stand. The pre-show room before the ride also has some neat stuff in it, with photos on the wall of Krusty’s past, from his childhood pie-flinging days, his stint as a stand-up from “The Last Temptation of Krust,” and a picture of him grinning next to a bemused Matt Groening. The pre-show itself is okay, setting up the groundwork for the actual ride where Maggie crawls into the nuclear reactor and Bob hijacks the park, but once you’ve seen it as many times as I have, it gets a bit tedious. Watching it with other people, however, provides a window into what people think is funny. Sometimes they’re not even paying attention, however, but people seem to love when Grampa immediately falls asleep, and Homer talking about Chewbacca and doing a Wookie scream for some reason. My favorite line is Krusty’s absolute disinterest (“Now enjoy the Ferris wheel! Or whatever this is…”)
ush_simpsons-ride-startThen we get to the ride itself, which I can essentially recite from memory at this point. I originally was kind of bummed out that they went with all CG instead of a blend of 2D and 3D (although seeing how well they’ve done it on the show, perhaps this is best). I’ve gotten used to it at this point though, and despite a few tiny bits, it really looks spectacular. And the ride really is a lot of fun, as you’re knocked about every which way, causing as much complete and utter destruction as possible, just as a good simulation should. You even get sent straight to hell at one point, which is sort of like the end of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Are there good jokes? A couple, but I’m not exactly on a theme park ride to laugh. They lampoon various theme parks, like Pirates of the Caribbean from Disney World (“Captain Dinosaur’s Pirate Rip-Off,”) and Sea World (“We’ll save you! Onward, convenient whale!”) It’s a real thrill; once we get out of the park, smash through the Springfield sign and swoop down into the town, as that familiar theme song starts playing, I start getting goose bumps. Even after just slogging through almost a decade of terrible shows, the show still elicits this positive emotional reaction from me. Similar to the movie, through the modern-day mucky trappings of it all, the ride still managed to invest me in the Simpsons universe in a way the show has failed to do for a good long while.

In summation? A great, great ride. And if you’re going to Universal Studios anyway, why wouldn’t you want to go on it? The site at Orlando is actually undergoing some construction; they just installed a bunch of carnival games right in front of the ride. They had such games scattered around the park prior to this, but having them in front of the carnival-themed attraction seems like a no-brainer. They’re also tearing down the adjacent restaurant to replace it with new Simpsons-themed fare. Rumors are floating of a Krusty Burger, or Moe’s, or even both. The whole damn place is under construction; the Transformers ride is set to open this summer, and the Harry Potter expansion is well underway where Jaws once stood. Good thing I just left Orlando before I got to see any of it, just think of how much fun I could have had. Ah well.