506. The Spy Who Learned Me

Original airdate: May 6, 2012

The premise:
After sustaining a head injury at work, Homer hallucinates a James Bond expy as his mentor to woo Marge back into his good graces. Meanwhile, Bart enacts revenge on Nelson by getting him hooked on Krusty Burger, leaving him morbidly obese.

The reaction: Things start off on a bad note as we open with two set pieces that feel like neutered recreations of past show moments. First is the Stradivarius Cain movie clip, featuring a meeting of a group of evil super villains who are thwarted by our hero popping out of something. It’s a hollow mimicry of the McBain segment from “Last Exit to Springfield”: the in-context parody of overtly evil action movie villains is replaced with awkward out-of-place comedic dialogue of evil guy’s mistress assuring she didn’t sleep with Cain and stale violence that feels nowhere near as wonderfully brutal as McBain (or as funny, like when a guy reaches for a dead man’s slice of cake and is shot himself). Homer and Marge are in attendance of said movie, and Homer is making an ass of himself, as he did previously in “Colonel Homer.” Like then, this scene sets up a rift between the two that will have to be dealt with over the episode. He decides not to tell the family he got time off of work since Marge is still mad at him, and then he starts hallucinating Cain to give him advice on how to woo women. There’s no rhyme or reason as to when or how he appears, he just comes and goes as he pleases. We also get a segment of Homer at a trendy bar successfully using a corny pick-up line and getting a hot girl, so there’s also some recycled stuff here from that ode to pick-up artists episode last season. Not only does Cain show up like five minutes after we see Homer’s accident, it’s not clear exactly what the point of him is. Homer gets completely back in Marge’s good graces with one smooth-talkin’ line of dialogue, followed by a sleep-inducing climax involving that hot girl from earlier and her not-Scarface husband? For some reason? I dunno. This show was just a lot of random things happening that sometimes connected to a threadbare story line, sometimes. Bleh. Don’t have much else to say about it.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is just as unremarkable. We get an in-universe version of Super-Size Me with Eric Idle’s character, a film that at this point was nearly a decade old. I feel like this show referenced it at least once before. But there’s no satirical element to it, the only joke is characters get cartoonishly obese eating all that Krusty Burger. That’s all. The Beavis & Butthead revival did a Super-Size Me segment around this time, but it actually had a story to it. And humor. Here, Nelson gets fat, Krusty lets him use his trainer, then we end with buff super bully Nelson. That’s it. We also get maybe the most bafflingly dated reference in show history, when the trainer makes an Alicia-Silverstone-in-Batman-&-Robin fat joke. Were they doing spring cleaning in the writer’s room and found a post-it note from 1997?
– There’s a pretty lazy piece of dialogue toward the end of the episode. On an establishing shot of Homer driving to the fancy garden party restaurant thing, Homer comments, “The three of us are going to the most romantic restaurant in town!” So you expect Marge to say, “Three? You mean two?” And there to be some kind of comic moment with that. Instead, nothing. We see Cain in the backseat, who is strapped into Maggie’s car seat (why?), but Marge doesn’t make any remark. Did they just forget they were setting up a joke and not pay it off?
– Sweet, sweet FOX synergy. One of the many hallucinations Homer cycles through is Cleatus, the FOX Sports robot, who Homer mentions by name and he does his little end line dance as the NFL music plays. It just goes so long, and feels like nothing but sad time filler.

One good line/moment: He’s got no material to work with whatsoever, but Bryan Cranston is never not likable. As Cain, he’s pretty much playing a suave James Bond type, but there’s a weird moment when he appears to be getting his rocks off while watching Homer and Marge make out. He literally pops up into frame at a perfect diagonal angle behind them locking lips, it’s a really bizarre sequence that I laughed at because it was so weird. It was like it turned into an Adult Swim show for a few seconds.

505. A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Original airdate: April 29, 2012

The premise:
Bart seeks to dispel his recent ennui with a family vacation on a luxury cruise, but when he realizes his perfect week is only temporary, he schemes a plan to make the vacation last forever.

The reaction: The Simpson family once existed in a world where everything sucked. When they watched commercials for seemingly amazing attractions or products that seemed to be too good to be true, they usually ended up being huge let-downs. The show was a satire on all aspects of modern life, and no subject matter was safe from its masterful ridicule. Nowadays, whether it be celebrities who play themselves delivering softball jokes at their own “expense,” or showing the family at elaborate events and new locales based on the writers’ seemingly wonderful SoCal lives, it seems at times the show isn’t as interested in ripping on things as it is glorifying them. This may be the crowning example thus far, an episode that seems like an extended commercial for the cruise industry. When Bart sees the ad for the cruise line, he’s immediately won over. It looks like the funnest things to ever be fun in the history of fun-dom. Then the family takes the cruise, and it’s the best thing ever. Everything about it is great. More fun than anything else ever. Fun fun fun. Did the writers get a free vacation out of this? The cruise industry seems like such a ripe target for ridicule, but they just let this one slip by. In the context of the story, there’s no room for satire though; the episode is about Bart’s inexplicable melancholy, and his realization that while the cruise is enthralling now, it, like all things, is only temporary. I’ll give the episode some credit, we go into some really dark places with Bart, with him imaging himself on his death bed mourning a wholly unexciting life. There are a few sequences that come close to holding real weight, but ultimately, I’m left not entirely sure why Bart is feeling this way. This type of depression about one’s future seems weird for someone as young as Bart to have; Lisa’s bout of sadness way back in “Moaning Lisa” made sense because she’s always been wise beyond her years, and we see why she feels this way, from her unappreciative school and home life. No matter how many times Bart talks about how unhappy and unfulfilled he feels, I never understood why that was. There are elements of this show that feel like they actually could work, but by the time we get to the third act where all hell breaks loose on the ship that ends up with the Simpsons in Antarctica, it just becomes the same nonsensical slop we always get every Sunday.

Three items of note:
– The opening act is full of sequences I’ve come to expect from this show. To raise the money to go on the room, Bart sells everything in his room in a yard sale. Everything. His bed, his furniture, all of it. This all happens without Homer or Marge saying anything about it, it’s just a set piece where they can kill a little time. The next day, Bart is shocked to find that his funds jar is completely full, like magic! Marge announces that each family member sold one beloved item each, so then Lisa, then Marge, then Homer wait their turns to give their respective joke lines about what they sold. Like the kids talking in the movie theater in “Cheating Bart,” it’s all this super hacky set-up, pay-off style of sitcom writing that this show used to make fun of.
– Bart tricks his fellow passengers that there’s been a virus outbreak on land so they must stay out at sea, creating panic and pandemonium. We get a panoramic view of the ship that mirrors the one earlier in the episode, except all the attractions and amenities are in ruin. Everyone is miserable, everything is dirty and run down, nothing works, but for some reason, Bart doesn’t seem to care. He’s deluded himself into thinking this is all still fun, but it doesn’t play out like a delusion. Like, why is he still psyched? This could have played into some realization that it wasn’t the superficial fun stuff on the ship that was making him happy, it was seeing the rest of his family enjoy themselves that he liked. Instead, we don’t get that confession out of him until the end of the episode. Speaking of which…
– So, the Simpsons end up stranded in Antarctica with a few minutes of show to spare. They run into a hoard of penguins and Bart and Lisa make some observation about how life is about enjoying those fleeting fun moments, blah blah blah, whatever. It all feels so arbitrary. The family is stranded in a freezing cold environment, but when they see the penguins sliding down the hill, they decide it’s time to exposit the meaning of tonight’s episode.

One good line/moment: I actually really liked Steve Coogan as the cruise director. The gag in his introductory video where it keeps cutting to him leaning against different guard rails as he gives his spiel gave me the first genuine, hearty laugh I’ve gotten out of this show in a long time.

504. Beware My Cheating Bart

Original airdate: April 15, 2012

The premise:
Jimbo threatens Bart into being his surrogate to take his girlfriend Shauna to all the things he doesn’t want to go to, which results in a weird, inappropriate relationship between them. Meanwhile, Homer buys an expensive treadmill only so he can binge watch a LOST “parody” on its built-in TV.

The reaction: “Doesn’t anyone here realize I’m only ten years old?” Bart quips halfway through the episode. I feel like he’s addressing the writers here, because this is yet another instance of putting Bart in a situation better suited for a high school story, probably the most extreme one yet. I usually try to avoid direct compare and contrasts to past episodes, but seeing as this is the second show featuring Bart’s infatuation with an older girl who’s dating Jimbo, that’s just far too specific to not have in my mind. Ah yes, “New Kid on the Block,” airing nearly twenty years earlier, featured Bart’s youthful crush on cool new neighbor Laura Powers, who impresses him with her knowledge of schoolyard pranks and ability to use bullies’ mind tricks against them. On the other hand, who is Shauna, Jimbo’s new flame? A teen skank? We don’t get much out of her other than her occasional flirtatious nature, so Bart’s interest in her is nowhere near as believable as Laura’s was. Also, the set-up: Jimbo has Bart spend time with Shauna because he’s a non-threatening “pre-puber,” and Shauna initially thought he was a second grader, but halfway through the episode she flashes him her boobs and they start secretly making out. Gross gross groooosssss. The bullies’ ages have always been nebulous (Kearney is a father, after all), but Shauna seems like she’s probably fourteen, fifteen max? Locking lips with a kid? Weird. And as we’ve seen in the past, Bart oscillates from acting like a little boy to an older kid with a girlfriend, from happily going up and down the slide to eagerly anticipating his next make-out sess. Halfway through, they have an extended section where Bart appears to be slightly traumatized after being flashed, but this is dropped pretty quickly after he, for some reason, urges Shauna she can do better than Jimbo. Maybe the episode could have been about Bart not wanting to grow up so fast, like his own “Lard of the Dance.” Instead we get him playing mouth hockey with a girl in a two-piece bathing suit who looks like a high schooler. I repeat: gross gross GROSS.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is pretty boring. Once again, the show is late to the party, as LOST went off the air two years earlier. I imagine this story came about from one of the writers binge-watching the show after not having watched it first run. So Homer very quickly just stops using the treadmill, and Marge, for some reason, is too much of a dope to figure out the obvious truth (“I guess the weight will come off all at once one day in the future!”) She’s upset when she finds Homer just watching TV in the basement, then later she’s not mad when she wants to have sex when the kids are out of the house, but Homer is too engrossed in the show. She ends up blurting out spoilers for the series finale, and then in the last scene, as Homer previously was murmuring to himself about killing his wife for spoiling a TV show for him, Marge gives her husband LOST-themed sexy times and it’s all okay. I’m not even upset about Homer getting rewarded after being a jackass because the plot is barely developed enough to be mad about. Also, we get a scene with Jimbo dangling Bart out of the treehouse outside the open master bedroom window. So I guess Marge is aware her son is being physically abused, and Bart and Jimbo can see her in her negligee about to have sex with Homer, and both parties are cool with that. Why not.
– The opening act features a beginning that explains too much, and an end than explains too little. Bart and Milhouse run into the bullies and Shauna at the movie theater. Dolph explains they’re going to see a foreign horror movie while pointing at the poster, who then just explains all the jokes that are written on the poster. Meanwhile, Shauna mentions she wants to see a Jennifer Aniston movie where she rolls her eyes on the poster, then gestures to a movie poster where you see that. This whole section feels like it’s out of Big Bang Theory or something, this stilted sitcom-level over-explaining dialogue. You’re almost waiting for the laugh track to show up. Later on, Bart gets Shauna out of trouble with mall security by taking the fall for her shoplifting. He’s worried about getting beat up by Jimbo, but it just seems like such weak motivation, especially considering earlier this season the bullies were his lackeys in that Teddy Roosevelt episode. Then, there’s an explosion inside mall jail and Bart just runs out. No explanation whatsoever, they couldn’t even be bothered to write a joke for that moment, just move on, no one will care.
– The dinner table scene with Bart seeing breasts everywhere is such easy material. The cookies with chocolate nipples, Grampa offering (chicken) breasts and calling him a boob… like, so, so easy. It just reminds me of that great scene in “Duffless,” the Clockwork Orange parody where Bart’s reaching for the cupcakes and falls to the floor, traumatized. I have no fucking idea how they got away with a joke like that in 1993. To go from that to this kind of amateur hour is pretty sad to me.

One good line/moment: Though it definitely runs twice as long as it probably should, the Bill Plympton couch gag was pretty entertaining. Seeing Homer fuck his beloved couch, have a little chair baby, and it attempt suicide by throwing itself in the maw of a garbage truck as its baby is in tears was pretty shocking stuff, but in a good way, in my opinion.

503. Them, Robot

Original airdate: March 18, 2012

The premise:
Mr. Burns replaces the entire power plant staff with robots, leaving Homer as the sole human employee to monitor them. As other businesses follow Burns’ model and the town becomes more desolate, Homer finds himself bonding with his new robotic co-worker.

The reaction: Way back when this first aired, I was asked to help cover this for the Crazy Noises column on Dead Homer Society. Having not watched a new episode in years, I was absolutely flabbergasted at the sub-basement-level of quality before my eyes. Now, having seen every episode before this, I’m not as aghast, but only because my expectations are at the proper low, low, loooooowww level. In this new science fiction universe that used to be Springfield, the entire power plant is run by hyper-intelligent robots, and Homer is chosen to be their supervisor because he burst in Burns’ office to yell at him. It doesn’t matter. Brent Spiner is the voice of the robots, who does a fine job delivering the very basic humor of robots interpreting things literally. Outside the plant, we see Marge and the kids wander through the desolate town, with Marge bemuses the 99% unemployment rate. So, how exactly do these two stories correlate? I was bullshitting the premise up there when I wrote it; we don’t actually see other business hiring robots, nor is it even implied. It’s just Burns fires everyone at the plant, and all of a sudden everyone in Springfield is out of work. That’s it. There is absolutely zero connective tissue between these two plot points. After that, Homer drills holes in all the robots after learning they want to abolish beer, and then then turn murderous and have buzzsaw arms and cut off part of Homer’s skull… yawn. Like, what the fuck is this? He runs to Burns’ mansion, who for some reason lets him in and the two become buddy partners. Then for no reason, the unemployed masses arrive to bust in Burns’ greenhouse and destroy the robots, and then for no reason, Burns gives everyone their jobs back. Problem solved! So, so terrible. This was shitty when I watched it then, and it’s the same watching it now. The only difference is I’m not as disappointed.

Three items of note:
– As is normally the case, the opening story before the actual plot begins is incredibly superfluous. As alcohol is considered a drug in the eyes of the plant, Homer must survive the weekend prior to the plant physical sober. He then finds out he’s going to have to go to brunch with Patty & Selma. This is like a classic set up; the two hags get under his skin, he tries to resist a drink, drama, tension, etc. Instead, Patty & Selma literally say nothing, and the joke involves Marge screaming at Homer for eating all the food that has booze in it. Mimosa! Irish coffee! Cherries jubilee! Lists are funny, right? In the end, his physical doesn’t even matter. Burns is made liable for medical expenses thanks to his unsafe working conditions, leading to him hiring the robots. You really could have done this set-up one of two ways: he either buys the robots because he doesn’t want to deal with safety concerns, or he doesn’t want to deal with the incompetence of the human worker. Both of these seem simple and effective enough; instead it’s like we did a weird unnecessary zig zag.
– This show has its fair share of elongated sequences that go on so long it makes me want to die, but this episode probably has the most of them that I can recall. The loud echoing “D’oh!” throughout the town, Homer reading the tax code, Marge’s aforementioned food list, Homer screaming “Working hard or hardly working?” at the robot, Lenny and the smallest violin (probably the most unnecessarily prolonged bit in the show’s history), and the robots running in the street after Homer and being hit by cars. If I’ve learned one thing from this show, it’s that when you don’t have things like a good story or good jokes, killing time is hard.
– They make a solid point in the episode to talk about how the robots can only move off on a yellow line on the floor. Then we see Homer has drawn a line from out of the plant and onto a baseball field. Not only are there players in the outfield with no line, then later we get the long bit of robots going into the road, who just walk with no regard for the line or not. Are they programmed to break protocol to save a human life? That doesn’t sound like a very Burns thing to me. Or whatever. You can’t just introduce a rule and then break it barely a minute after you say it.

One good line/moment: This is another tough one… man… Moe yelling at the Girl Scout was smirk-worthy (“I ain’t payin’! Two of my shortbreads were broken!”) Even though the joke is painfully set up. We see a flashback where we find how young Moe got his face mangled, then we fade to current Moe. Buuuuut just in case you didn’t get it, we have Marge follow up young Moe’s quote! (“I guess I’ll have to become beautiful on the inside!” “Which he didn’t.”) Wow, did you really need to ADR that bullshit so people wouldn’t miss why the joke was funny? …I take it back, there were no good moments.

502. How I Wet Your Mother


Original airdate:
March 11, 2012

The premise:
To find the psychological reason behind Homer’s recent… ugh… bed-wetting problem, Professor Frink has the Simpson family enter Homer’s dreams.

The reaction: So, we’ve had a bunch of instances this season of the show trying to be culturally relevant multiple years after a phenomenon, but this is the granddaddy of them all: an Inception parody nearly two years after the film’s release. At this point, everyone and their mother had done one. In an era when regular people can create and upload content immediately online, you just can’t do topical content when your show takes nine months to make. But, Krusty already made it clear earlier in the season, the writers know this, and I guess they don’t care. So the psychological trauma needing to be addressed with dream therapy is caused by Homer suddenly… wetting the bed. There’s not much to really dwell on about this one. It gave the writers opportunity to write such home runs as “Why can’t I cork my wang wine?” because that’s how humans talk. I don’t even think characters in Kevin Smith movies talk like that. We also get Homer doing a sexy striptease with an adult diaper, which is maybe one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in my whole life. Moving on quickly from that, the family enters Homer’s dreams, where they do their Inception set pieces, like skiing down a mountain, the looming city that folds in on itself, and slow-motion fight sequences when Chief Wiggum appears to fight Professor Frink for absolutely no reason. There’s no real attempts made to actually make jokes about the film, it’s just The Simpsons starring in Inception. Between the bed-wetting opening and this toothless Hollywood naval gazing, by the end we’re expected to care that Homer is being haunted by his child-like belief that he’s the reason his mother left them, but there’s just been too much nonsense to expect me to get sentimental at the very, very end. Plus, there’s been absolutely no clues or buildup to this conclusion, so it ends up coming off as just random. All in all, it just felt like a really long, really boring, and really bad Halloween segment, with a stream of urine jokes at the beginning. …no pun intended.

Three items of note:
– This episode is absolutely riddled with exposition. The whole first act of Homer trying to fix his problem on his own, it ends up leading to him talking to himself about what he should do or his new plan, or one scene where he talks to an imaginary six-armed Apu. Later, the family keeps parroting back the clues they get and what they mean, and the worst of all is when Lisa just happens to know about dream levels and just repeats the explanation lines from Inception. So it’s exposition taken from another movie’s exposition? Exposit-ception? …I’ll see myself out.
– This show has a (bad) habit of characters just showing up in scenes without reason either to give a random joke or to unnaturally push the story along. This might be the crowning example: as Marge takes a night walk after failing to be seduced by a diaper-clad Homer, Professor Frink literally falls out of the sky before her, having been exploded by [insert joke I forgot here]. He knows about Homer’s problem through Twitter, and, despite knowing nothing about why he’s doing it, pitches his dream machine thing to her. I guess this is kind of like the memory wipe machine he had in the Eternal Sunshine parody. Also, when did we get to the point where Professor Frink’s inventions actually work? I miss his malfunctioning psychotic Bobo robot and the malfunctioning Gamble-Tron 2000.
– In the end, the family is saved by Death on a jetpack, who we previously have seen throughout the different dreams, who ends up actually being Mona, Homer’s mother. Why exactly was she in a grim reaper costume? Because she’s dead? This also gives us a “joke” that’s been a huge gripe of mine about this show. Mona reveals herself and says she always lives on in Homer’s dreams. So, Homer is actually face-to-face with his dead mother, who he loved dearly. What do we get after that? A joke where Homer grows in dream hair, Marge cites it as Jennifer Aniston’s Friends hair, then Homer makes a Friends joke. These characters haven’t acted like normal human beings for years now, but it’s moments like this where it becomes the most apparent. Rather than react to amazing, emotional moments in a manner that makes sense, these characters are now just like walking non sequitur joke machines. There was a similar joke way back in “My Mother the Carjacker” when Homer and Mona reunite, and he ends up tearfully hugging a nearby bum, but this time, it’s even worse because a) it should be even more emotional since Mona’s dead, and b) Homer at least expressed his hesitation about opening himself up to his runaway mom before the bum joke. All this being said, when we get to Mona’s goodbye and we see the images of a younger Homer and Abe and she says she’ll always be with him, I can’t take it seriously because this show purposefully undercuts moments like this for no reason, thus making them completely hollow.

One good line/moment: One dream level the family enters is a recreation of an old Tracey Ullman short “Family Therapy.” I understand it’s pure fanservice, but it was still fun to see some elements of the prehistoric show redone, like the twister mouths and Homer’s old Walter Mattheau voice. I almost wish the animation had been even rougher and more accurate to the originals.