455. Postcards From the Wedge

postcardsfromthewedgeOriginal airdate: March 14, 2010

The premise: The school informs Bart’s parents of his lengthy track record of not doing any homework; in response, Homer cracks the whip, while Marge has a more sympathetic outlook. Noticing the opposite reactions, Bart sets his parents against each other to get out of doing schoolwork, but when he does, finds his pranking isn’t as fun without the thrill of potentially being punished.

The reaction: Another episode starring Anti-Bart; worrying about school and what his parents think of him? Who is this character? A lot of this felt like “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” in reverse, particularly in showing Homer and Marge with reverse points of view. In that episode, Marge is the actual attentive parent, so seeing her concerned with her son’s behavior at school makes sense. Similarly, Homer is completely oblivious, and is easily manipulated and won over, so him being a pushover to Bart’s whims also is logical. Here, they’re switched, and it makes no sense, delving further into the bizarre once they resolve their marital spat, openly vowing to put their marriage before their kids. Homer I can meet halfway about this, but Marge?! No fucking way. Then Bart sets himself up to get caught pulling a mega prank and basks in the glory of his punishment. Remember the kid who wantonly smashed mustard packets into the carpet with a hammer for no reason other than he was a rambunctious ten-year-old? Whatever happened to that little scamp?

Three items of note:
– We open with a filmstrip being shown in Krabappel’s class of a city of the future, a surprisingly well done piece aping 1950s style designs. It’s not particularly funny, but it captures the spirit and the look of those old Tex Avery “[blank] of Tomorrow” shorts. It certainly is the first thing I’ve enjoyed this whole season, and we’re at what, episode fourteen?
– The underground train station actually boasts some very well designed sets, they were very interesting to look at. Kinda reminded me of the D.C. train tunnels in Fallout 3. There’s some pretty good artistry in this episode, too bad the story is so boring.
– It’s funny how big things can happen in these new episodes without any sort of elaboration or reaction. We’re introduced to the railway in act three, which Bart activates, causing monstrous tremors all throughout the town. This surely would create some kind of panic that Quimby would have to address, but instead, it’s just glossed over completely. I feel some of these episodes introduce elements or brush up against plot turns that could be interesting if explored, but doesn’t even bother to try.

One good line/moment: There are actually a couple good bits here. My favorite is where Bart is chasing the letter to the school mail room, dives past the mail slot and right under a similar slot marked “Ice Cream Wrappers.” Then he’s buried under a bunch of wrappers. It was so weird and well timed, it actually made me laugh.

454. The Color Yellow

thecoloryellowOriginal airdate: February 21, 2010

The premise: In researching the Simpson family tree, Lisa uncovers the diary of a young 19th century girl who wrote of her attempts to free a slave belonging to Mr. Burns’ ancestor. She continues to dig deeper and deeper to find the full story, hoping to find at least one Simpson in history of noble character.

The reaction: This show has forgotten to make jokes in the past, but here, it seems like they weren’t even trying to do comedy, but craft this historical mystery instead. Too bad none of it is interesting or entertaining. And none of it really makes much sense. The episode is about Lisa hoping there will be redemption for her 1860s counterpart, then when she’s discredited by an out-of-character antagonistic Milhouse, she’s gone from the episode. Then all of a sudden it’s 1860s Marge who saves the day, moving with the slave Virgil to Canada. So is 1860s Homer not in the Simpson blood line at all? And did 1860s Marge just up and abandon her daughter, the girl we were supposed to care about the whole show? And did they eventually move back to Springfield after leaving? Who gives a shit. This felt like an extended version of those three-story episodes, except with zero attempts at humor.

Three items of note:
– “The motto of the Simpsons is quit while you’re ahead!” Do the writers include lines like this on purpose?
– It really is stunning how little comedy there was attempted here. I mean, were they so proud of themselves and this historical “drama” they cooked up that they felt it would be worth playing it straight? The scene of 1860s Burns talking down to Lisa to set her straight felt so scathing, with no snarky capper or anything. I think they were really trying to be serious here… but why? WHY?
– Homer randomly forbids Lisa to read on in the diary, and Grampa out of nowhere provides all the necessary information about our story’s conclusion. Why is this? Never explained. Oh, except for a quick off-the-cuff line about Abe being a racist. Funny!

One good line/scene: Once again, a sign gag (Celebrating Black History Month. Coming Soon: March).

453. Boy Meets Curl

boymeetscurlOriginal airdate: February 14, 2010

The premise: Homer and Marge’s marriage gets a new spark when they take up interest in curling. They partner up with Skinner and Agnes, and eventually are invited to try out for the Winter Olympics upon its admission of the sport to their games. Tensions arise when Agnes wants to urge Homer off the team, and later Marge sprains her shoulder to cover for him during a game. But then they bounce back and win the gold! Hoooraaaay… whoooo carrrees…

The reaction: Curling… my God. The scenes during the games attempting to play for drama are hysterical, they must be intentional. Could this be any more dull? I guess this is another of their gimmicky, attempting-to-stay-relevant episodes, as it aired during the Winter Olympics, and mixed curling was up for being included (results: it wasn’t). Homer and Marge try out curling, and of course instantly become good at it, enough to get selected to try out in the motherfucking Olympics, apparently. So they go to Vancouver, Agnes wants to throw Homer off the team for some reason, more tensionsless scenes of curling, blah blah blah blah… and then they win, and everything’s great. So are they going to the actual winter games now? Yawn. Long gone are the days of the Simpsons being lovable failures, I guess. Watching underdogs in believable situations is a lot more entertaining than characters who succeed at the most gargantuan of tasks. Oh, and there’s also a B-story about Lisa being addicted to collectible pins and acting like a crackhead. What a pile of nothing this show is.

Three items of note:
– So I guess we’ve retconned Skinner again where we see he is Agnes’ biological son, in an absolutely disturbing image of unborn Seymour kicking her from inside, with a little foot jutting from her stomach… in slow motion. Has any other characters’ past been rewritten so much? And just as we’ve seen with Krusty, Burns and many others, at the end we get Agnes acting wildly out of character; she tells her son she’s so, so proud of him, in a completely saccharine, irony-free moment of “emotion.” Where did this come from? And why? And did they literally make a reference to Shaq taunting Kobe Bryant with Agnes taunting Norway, “Tell me how my ice tastes?” I feel… so unclean.
– Bob Costas gets a lot of lines here as himself, but none of his lines are funny, and none of them really form him into any kind of character. Remember when James Taylor, Stephen Jay Gould and Jasper Johns were inexplicably assholes? That certainly doesn’t happen anymore; everything on this show must now be held with the kiddiest of kid gloves.
– It feels like so little happens in these shows because there’s so much goddamn padding… all the montages, the hallucination with the medicine lady, the Curlys bit (which felt soooo long, the writers must have been real proud of themselves for that one, “Curling… it sounds like Curly!”) and that end bit with the stupid upside down Homer muzzle thing. It was kind of like the random bit of Lisa skating to “Season of the Witch” and the end of “Rednecks and Broomsticks,” like with so little story, they still came in short and had to pad twenty more seconds.

One good line/moment: Another sign gag at the ice rink (Thursday: Clockwise Night). It seems that sign gags are the only card the show has up its sleeve anymore, normally they’re the only things that work in these shows.

452. Million Dollar Maybe

milliondollarmaybeOriginal airdate: January 31, 2010

The premise: Homer skips out on a wedding where he and Marge planned an elaborate toast for to purchase a lottery ticket, and ends up sending his car down a cliff attempting to hurry there. Upon coming to, he finds he’s the million dollar winner, but knowing if he confesses he’ll admit he ditched Marge, he keeps the winnings and spends them in secret. Meanwhile, Lisa gets the denizens of the Retirement Castle happy and active with… sigh… the Funtendo Zii.

The reaction: Such an odd episode. For a show where Homer wins a million dollar jackpot, it certainly felt like nothing was happening. And I guess something that huge isn’t meaty enough so we get a B-story and a fare amount of filler to go with it. So Homer can’t tell Marge he won because he’ll be admitting to skipping out on that wedding thing? If we couldn’t pick that up, thankfully his inner monologue explicitly exposits that for us. In order to covertly spend it, he hides presents for the family about town, be it a washing machine in the bushes in the park, or filling the family car with brand new electronics at the car wash. Marge and the others just accept these random happenings, I guess, because they’re idiots. Couldn’t Homer have done this in a savvier way? Why not lie and say he got a raise at work? He’s not the smartest man, but surely there are dozens of other ways he could have kept this quiet. It all just felt very dumb. As for our B-story… it’s like Mapple all over again, it just felt like a giant Wii commercial; no satire, no real humor, just talking about how fun it is. Buy one today! Though surely you have one, since the system was out for over two years before this aired!

Three items of note:
– Even before Homer wins the jackpot, it seems the Simpsons are already pretty well off considering Lisa is just able to buy the Zii herself. Remember when Bart was saving up money to buy Bonestorm? Certainly felt more realistic than an eight-year-old buying a video game system by herself on a whim.
– Why would Marge go up and just sing her part of the toast with the silent gaps where Homer should be? It’s like that bit in the Tenacious D movie where Cage plays a song at a house party but with only his vocals, except there it kind of works because he’s an idiot. Between this and blindly accepting expensive gifts that just show up out of nowhere, I guess Marge is a big idiot too.
– Kind of similar to treating Grampa’s rambling stories seriously in that other episode, here our B-story is resolved in hearing the nursing home staff’s poor lot in life. The poor conditions and environment of the retirement castle used to be such sharp commentary and so underplayed, whereas now the plot ends with the staff griping to Lisa as overtly as possible (“You still should’ve let them have their fun!” “They should have had their fun before they got here!”)

One good line/moment: Homer posits all he can buy with his new fortune, like Hitler’s baseball, or a magic mirror that dispenses advice. Cue thought balloon with the magic mirror (“My advice is to buy Hitler’s baseball.”) Nice bit, the quick timing made it work.

451. Once Upon a Time in Springfield

onceuponatimeinspringfieldOriginal airdate: January 10, 2010

The premise: Krusty is outraged at his new studio mandated co-host meant to cater to young girls, Princess Penelope, who soon begins to completely usurp his fame. But come to find Penelope is a devoted superfan, and the two begin a relationship. Meanwhile, a headhunter tries to lure Homer, Lenny and Carl away from Springfield Nuclear to the power plant in Capitol City.

The reaction: This episode aired before Morgan Spurlock’s special, acting as our 20th anniversary show of sorts. And man, is it ever illustrative of not only how bad the series itself has gotten, but how characters are now virtually their complete opposites. Remember Krusty, the degenerate, ill-tempered drunk who needed his mail sorted by death threat, paternity suit or both? Now it seems thanks to one insane super fan, he’s head over heels in love, willing to marry this Penelope person. Who is this broad? And why does Krusty so over the moon for her? The episode trots out this unbelievably cliche and saccharine ending, completely irony-free, where the two kiss and make up in Paris, which even if their relationship was completely understandable and made sense would be frustrating. But none of it does; as usual, we’re just told things, not shown them. Meanwhile in our B plot, Mr. Burns not only cares if three anonymous, dead-eyed, incompetent employees quit, but gets on his knees and begs them to stay. Do I need to say a damn thing to explain why this is wrong? The episode ends with a thank you for 20 years of watching, and the warning, “The best is yet to come.” Oh dear.

Three items of note:
– I guess you could count this as a musical episode, except none of the songs are in any way funny. We have Penelope’s introduction, which feels endless. Bart and Milhouse plugging their ears and shivering in the fetal position watching as their beloved show is reduced to utter shambles… perceptive meta commentary? I doubt it. Then we have Krusty and Penelope’s new joint show, a lovey dovey affair with still no attempt at any humor. Then we have a somber Penelope at the end, busking at cafes in Paris. Again, no jokes. Have we gone from crippled, pathetic attempts at humor, to just having none at all?
– Let’s have a guest star round-up, huh? Anne Hathaway stars as Penelope, a character we know nothing about, as established. She enters as a prim, perfect princess, and then we see her speak normally in a (shaky) Long Island accent. All I can get from her is obsessed emotionally stunted superfan. None of this is Hathaway’s fault, she’s just reading words on a page, and admittedly is a pretty good singer. Elsewhere, Homer, Lenny and Carl are touring Capitol City’s power plant, who has on its payroll… Gary Larson, cartoonist of The Far Side. How did this happen? The Far Side is certainly among the greatest comic strips ever published, but its run ended in 1995. What was the origin of this booking? We also get a brief appearance from Eartha Kitt over a pre-recorded television, given she died over a year before the air date, explained in a clumsy, almost oddly offensive Bart line. Was this story really in development for this long and this is what we got? And Jackie Mason returns briefly as Rabbi Krustofski, long enough to besmirch his future daughter-in-law for not being Jewish, and celebrate their busted non-union. Hooray!
– The B-plot is so stupid and empty… this headhunter finds Homer, Lenny and Carl at a bar and whisks them off, knowing nothing about their work ethic or if they’re good employees or not. We’ve seen Lenny and Carl are semi-competent at the plant, but surely this guy’s done zero research if he thinks Homer is a get. When Burns catches wind of this, as I stated before, he begs for them to stay. That’s right, the heartless old curmudgeon, with absolutely no regard for anyone with a smaller bank account than he, grovels before three of his most worthless underlings. And he wins them over with special, artisan donuts. Homer loves donuts so much he’ll eat them off the side of a dirt road, what does he care about quality? What garbage this is.

One good line/moment: There were a few smirk-worthy moments in the first few minutes before everything went to shit, like the quick look at America’s Next Top Krusty (“Hey hey! I’m non-union!”