535. Labor Pains

Original airdate: November 17, 2013

The premise:
Homer helps deliver a baby in a broken down elevator, and forms a special bond with the child in secret. Meanwhile, Lisa takes on the Rich Texan in helping a band of cheerleaders unionize.

The reaction: This show continues to baffle me in its incoherence in its stories; I simply cannot believe the writers can watch an episode like this and not realize how little sense most of it makes. So Homer’s out playing poker with the guys, and heading home, he shares an elevator with a pregnant woman, who does nothing but spout cliche lines (“The most beautiful moment of my life is happening now!”) In the end, Homer manages to deliver a perfectly clean, umbilical cord-less child. Over the next few days, or weeks, he ends up going back to this woman’s house to spend time with the child, Homer Junior. Now, what do we know about this woman? Homer addresses her as Gretchen when he meets her the second time, though neither of them told each other their names. Later, she needs him to babysit as she leaves to an undisclosed location. Does she work? What’s going on in her life? What’s the deal with the absentee father? Isn’t this information we should know at least a little bit about? Or that Homer would bother to ask? But no, she’s barely involved in the story, it’s all about Homer and the baby, and him keeping it a secret from Marge. The excuse for this is that he would have to admit he was playing poker instead of staying late at work when this happened, but this was such a huge event, I feel Marge would be sympathetic about it. When the truth is revealed, Marge seems uncomfortable about it, which is understandable given her husband has also been spending a ridiculous amount of time with this child (“I’m glad you did a good deed, but you shouldn’t come here again.”) As we round toward the end, we finally get to the point (?) that Homer is spending more time with this baby than his own children, particularly Maggie. So then we get a scene of Homer taking the four kids to the zoo. Where’s Gretchen? Why didn’t Marge ask this woman any other questions, why are you relying on my husband to take care of your kid, what’s the deal with your living situation… nothing. In the end, Gretchen’s boyfriend returns, having finished his tour of duty. Homer didn’t know that. He didn’t even know his name. This character of Gretchen is effectively an empty vessel, so what does that leave us? A show about Homer bonding with a baby that’s not his, then at the very end, the dad comes back, and he has a quick scene with Maggie to make it all better. What?

Three items of note:
– I don’t have much to say about the B-plot, mostly because the main story used up the majority of my anger. Lisa is enamored by a troupe of cheerleaders after they bring her onto the field during a packed game, magically put her in a midriff-exposing outfit and make her cheer along with them to the leering eyes of the crowd. Later, Rich Texan shows up to give the ladies their meager paychecks personally for some reason, and appears again on the field when Lisa rouses them up to strike. Then we get a boring montage, featuring the scab replacements of Patty, Selma, Nelson’s mom and Crazy Cat Lady. Guess we have to make use of our meager, unmarried female cast. It’s funny because they’re wearing skimpy outfits and they’re unattractive! The plot ends when Rich Texan just shows up at the Simpsons door and flat-out concedes. Wow, that was easy. I guess it was absolutely impossible for him to find more hot twentysomethings to exploit. What the hell was the point of all this?
– No one in this series talks like a regular person anymore, instead they are just joke machines, spewing out the most inane, senseless dialogue to get out as many hacky goofs as possible. There’s two scenes here that exemplify how fucking bad this is. First is the birthing scene; rather than act uneasy or worried as anyone would be when a woman is going into labor in front of you, Homer instead yammers on and on about the movie Alien and lists off his favorite lies for some reason. Having just delivered this new life into the world, he comments, “It’s a dude! And he’s uncut! Very Euro!” He was there when Marge delivered Bart, does he… not know how circumcision works? The second scene is even fucking worse, maybe one of the absolute worst scenes ever. Marge tracks Homer down outside Gretchen’s door, where we get the shitty gag of him overhearing him playing with the baby, but it kind of sounds like he’s messing around with another woman (“Oh baby, shake it! Homer like!”) So she catches Homer, Gretchen is also there for some reason, says Homer Junior’s name, so things appear to be even worse. So here’s the dialogue that follows (“You have a baby together?” “Oh, it’s cool, we did it in an elevator!” “I’m a Schwarzenegger wife!” “But you’re also the housekeeper, so it’s all good!” “It’s not good! None of it’s good!” “I haven’t had a drink for a week!” “That is pretty good.”) Act break. This scene is thirty seconds, but it felt torturous. It’s so fucking dumb. Homer could have explained what was happening in one sentence. As dim a bulb as he is, even him at his dumbest in the classic years would understand how bad this looks, and come clean to Marge and tell the truth. But as I said, these characters aren’t people anymore, they’re all about saying and doing dumb, goofy things, so Homer and Marge just go into a little comedy routine. I hate it. I fucking hate it.
– Homer takes Bart, Lisa, Maggie and Homer Junior to the zoo. By the way, he calls the baby Ho-Ju, which is annoying that they co-opted the great joke from “Marge vs. The Monorail.” Anyway, apparently Homer Junior is a little asshole, stealing bites off Maggie’s ice cream cone, despite her shoving him to stop. Then he ends up pushing Maggie stroller away. One push from a newborn sends the stroller careening through the whole zoo. Also, Homer Junior is able to ably stand up; he’s got to be close to a year old for that, how long has Marge allowed this shit to go on? So instead of running to help Maggie, Homer, Bart and Lisa just stand there and shout at her. When Maggie manages to save herself, Marge randomly appears to pick her up. Where the hell was she? She angrily tells Homer that’s the last time he can see “that elevator baby.” Should we feel sympathetic toward Homer at all? Beyond this whole situation being so insane, we now see that Homer Junior is a little jerkoff that tried to off Maggie. Thinking about this whole thing just makes me madder and madder.

One good line/moment: For some reason, over the credits, we get a montage of images of the various pieces of Atomettes merchandise. I don’t know why, but there are a few amusing items, like the book “Doorways of Cheerleaders’ Homes” and Ra Ra Raw Cookie Dough.

534. YOLO

Original airdate: November 10, 2013

The premise:
Homer’s old Spanish pen pal comes to Springfield to help him fulfill his many childhood dreams. Meanwhile, Lisa implements a student code of honor to help with the school’s rampant cheating problem.

The reaction: Normally when you’re telling a story, you need a little thing called conflict. You know, the thing that your character must overcome to get the thing that he wants? Or learn a lesson? Or grow as a person? These plots are getting thinner and more simplistic by the season, but this is the first episode I can think of that literally had no dramatic tension whatsoever. Kirk Van Houten rolls up in his midlife crisis-mobile, which is played as a big goof, but it’s enough to get Homer to spiral into melancholy too. Enter Eduardo, a Spanish “Magical Negro” character, Homer’s old pen pal he hasn’t written to in decades, who shows up to help him achieve the dreams he wrote about as a kid. So we see them in a little montage: riding on the back of a firetruck (I guess the writers forgot they already made Homer a firefighter), playing a pirate, recreating a scene from Star Trek… We get a scene where Marge seems to be a little upset, but she doesn’t explain why, and we gloss over it with Homer convincing her to do something she’s been wanting to do her whole life. So what’s the pushback on this? Some dreams should live in the past? Hedonism clashing with reality? My guess was that Eduardo was in love with Homer, as he watched the previous Homer-Marge scene from outside their window, and lots of forward remarks toward the big guy. Homer’s final dream involve sky gliding, which is going well until Marge calls via headset (“Come down, Homie! You only live once, but that also means when you die, you die!”) What is her problem? Normally they give a character an incredibly weak motivation, but here, we don’t get anything. If all of Homer’s dreams involved dangerous stuff, at least there would be a pattern. So I wasn’t sure what I should be concerned about. Homer will fall and get gravely injured? Not in the last two minutes of show, he won’t. He gets hurt all the time with no repercussions, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. In the end, Marge is all smiles at the hospital with a barely scraped up Homer as Eduardo proudly announces, “You’ve lived your dreams!” Alright, so here was the story: Homer’s sad he didn’t do more stuff, some guy shows up and says he should do stuff, then he does those things, and then that’s the end. Keep hitting those home runs, guys.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is almost as vacuous. Everyone at the school cheats, everyone, and Skinner holds a PTA meeting where he crumples to the floor because he’s spineless and awful at everything. In another let’s-acknowledge-our-narrative-shortcomings-in-hopes-that-it-excuses-years-of-bad-writing moments, Chalmers chastises Lisa for not coming forward with a solution earlier. She proposes an honor code the students have to stick by, a plan which ends up working. Again, I’m waiting for the twist. What’s the plot turn? Lisa discovers Bart is still cheating, as he knows his sister won’t turn him in, as it would prove that her system failed. So who’s to say everyone else isn’t cheating too? In the end, the two plots collide, literally, as a skydiving Homer collapses on top of Bart. Homer ends up at the hospital, but Bart, who just had a 250+ pound man fall on him from hundreds of feet above, is just fine. Mmmhmm.
– I wasn’t even going to comment on the cringe-worthy episode title, but they worked it into the show itself. YOLO, or You Only Live Once, I guess the writers connected the dots to You Only Live Twice and wrote “parody” lyrics in the span of five minutes, high fived each other, and called it a day. So we get a Bond-style rendition of “You Only Live Once,” and it’s just the worst. It’s so fucking bad. Here are the lyrics: You only live once, or so it seems / No life for yourself, and none for your dreams / You work every day, at a job so lame / And every night the ending’s the same. Even for the show’s low low standards, can this even be counted as a parody? The rhyme scheme is exactly the same, and a big share of the words are unchanged as well. It’s almost embarrassing. Remember Scorpio? The wonderful anthem from “You Only Move Twice”? (striking coincidence) It’s not a parody of one specific Bond theme, but a pastiche of the elements that we identify as classic Bond music, and the lyrics themselves are actually about something, and subverting the source material: Hank Scorpio is an evil supervillain who cares about giving his employees generous pensions and a stock plan. The contrast couldn’t be any more stark.
– We get our latest character to be drug up from the classic years and trotted out for the sake of fan service: Llewellyn Sinclair, immortally voiced by Jon Lovitz. We see Homer and Eduardo are sword fighting with two pirates on a dinner theater stage. In case you were confused, over the backdrop is written Springfield Dinner Theater presents: PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Stage productions typically have the theater and play name in giant letters as their backdrop, right? Enter Sinclair, who’s pissed (“I’m sick of pirates off the street ruining my play!”) So, are all four of them just random guys not in the play? Or are two of them actors who just decided to play and sword fight with Homer and Eduardo? Oh, who gives a fuck.

One good line/moment: Brockman’s report on the school’s cheating at the beginning felt a little closer to his classic style, which is especially weird coming off of last episode. But I kinda liked it (“If these children are our future, then I for one do not want to live.”)

533. Four Regrettings and a Funeral

Original airdate: November 3, 2013

The premise:
A funeral sparks four threadbare stories about regrets: Mr. Burns of his lost love, Kent Brockman of his dead end career, Marge believing her prenatal habits led to Bart’s bad behavior, and Homer of a failed stock investment.

The reaction: So here we get four stories going on at once that feebly connect at the end, but none of them are really the least bit meaningful or engaging whatsoever. Everyone just sort of explains to camera their problems and we go from there. There’s no real order, so I guess I’ll start with Burns, here a neutered pussycat pining for the one that got away, a Parisian girl who wouldn’t marry him because he’s evil. So he tracks her down, turns out she’s a Buddhist monk for some reason, and then they’re back together, for some reason, and then she dies. For some reason. And he fulfills her wish for him to spend five minutes a day doing good deeds, because he’s a limp-wristed pushover. Or he likes being good? I’d bitch about this being anti-Burns, but what’s the point? Next up, Brockman’s old colleague Rachel Maddow shows up, and then it’s just nonstop exposition of explaining their past and saying out loud exactly what they’re feeling and thinking. Kent goes to New York to interview at FOX News, but can’t stoop so low, so he returns home. The other two plots are minor in comparison; Marge worries that her listening to KISS music while pregnant made Bart out of control? How did they come up with that? I’m shocked they didn’t use this as an excuse to get Gene Simmons to do a voice. And then Homer’s one joke about buying stock in bowling balls instead of Apple becomes an entire D-plot. In the end, some of the plots come together kind of. Bart’s latest stunt puts him in danger, Kent reports on it, and Homer’s bowling ball saves him. Boy, what fun. All in all, it just felt like a worse version of that “500 Keys” show a few seasons ago. This series just astounds me in that they just keep getting more and more terrible. It’s like a slight but steady decline to an unknown bottom.

Three items of note:
– This episode aired a week or so after Marcia Wallace’s death, so we get a sweet tribute at the beginning with Bart writing on the chalkboard, “We’ll Really Miss You, Mrs. K.” I remember, it was a real bummer finding out she died, and despite my clearly established hatred for this show now, I feel bad for the writers. They did the whole Nedna thing, and I was stunned that they actually utilized those two together a handful of times over the last season or two, even coming into play as the resolution of a story in that one with Lisa’s bitchy substitute. But now, for reasons outside anyone’s control, Ned is a widower twice over. We will miss you indeed, Ms. Wallace. You were the greatest apathetic teacher we ever had.
– Homer’s story is honestly so fucking terrible, maybe one of the worst things the show’s done as of late. So we flash back to Homer’s big regret: he invests in bowling balls and dumps his Apple stock (“You heard me! Technology is a fad! Heavy blue balls are the future!”) Easy joke, and one I’m sure the show has made in the past, but alright, fine. As a one-off gag, I’m fine with it. Following that, Lovejoy for whatever reason calls for his congregation to “text on our ubiquitous Apple tablets and phones” and we see everyone on their devices. Homer bemoans on how he missed out, then Burns claims that he bought Homer’s stocks those years ago. Like, how much longer can they prolong this joke? After the act break, Burns steps in again to shout how much his Apple stock rose to further annoy Homer. Then later on, I was surprised that this was actually a mini-plot, as we see Homer trying to return the bowling ball, only to find it closed to prepare for a new Apple store. Later on, as Homer’s bowling ball is being used for the big dumb ending, Lou talks about Apple’s stock rising again, the same damn joke Burns did before. Then they do it again as Homer floats away, Lenny yells, “Homer’s rising faster than Apple stock!” I guess even the writers realized this was ridiculous, so they have text on the screen: “This is the last time we will kiss up to Apple. We’re not even getting paid for this.” An easy, one-off joke just became a hot-and-heavy dick sucking session for Apple. The only joke is that Apple is so great! Also, whatever happened to Mapple? That parody was so brilliant, why wouldn’t they reuse that? You know why.
– I can’t hate that Homer plot line enough; they also ripped themselves off again with the sweet montage set to “Memories” of Homer saying goodbye to an old friend. In “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,” Homer bids adieu to his fat gut, and we see all the sweet moments of him using it to bounce Maggie up and down, balance a bowl of snacks lying in the pool, etc. His jolly fatness and gluttony is a firmly established part of his character, we get it. Here, they have a montage of the great times Homer’s had with this bowling ball, an object we were briefly introduced to eight minutes before this scene. Who cares?

One good line/moment: The Hobbit couch gag was fun. It falls into the trappings of the show just referencing rather than actually parodying, but it was still a nice little sequence, certainly leagues better than anything in the episode itself.

532. Treehouse of Horror XXIV

Original airdate: October 6, 2013

The premise:
“Oh, The Places You’ll D’oh!” is told in Seussian rhyme, starring Homer as the Fat in the Hat, who takes the kids out for a calamitous Halloween rampage. In “Dead and Shoulders,” a freak accident results in Bart’s decapitated head being attached onto Lisa’s shoulder. “Freaks No Geeks” takes place in a 1930s circus, where sideshow freak Moe is sweet on Marge the trapeze artist, while strongman Homer plots a scheme to steal his valuable emerald.

The reaction: I certainly wouldn’t consider Dr. Seuss very spooky, but the first segment is definitely the stand out. The designs and art direction of the Seussified Springfield is pretty neat and engaging to look at, and the rhyming prose remained pretty strong throughout the whole thing. I’m not exactly sure why Homer acted like a homicidal maniac, but I appreciate the rare use of satire in treating the Fat in the Hat like a dangerous child abductor. Also, Maggie is designed like Cindy Lou Who and that’s pretty freaking adorable. The second story is… whatever. If Futurama‘s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” was six minutes long and had no jokes or narrative thrust, this is what you’d get. A big pet peeve of mine with these Halloween shows is that horrible violence or crazy shit happens with none of the characters even batting an eyelid in reaction. Bart’s head is (bloodlessly) cut clean off by his kite string, his head hits the grass, and he lets out a quiet exasperated sigh. It’s like he could barely muster the energy to care. Also, what happened to his body? I guess they just forgot about it. The third segment starts off okay, I like the sepia tone and the old time designs, and a few gags were chuckle-worthy, but when the actual plot kicks in, it’s just awful. Homer exposits his scheme out loud for the audience: he gets Marge to marry Moe, he’ll kill him, and then take his emerald ring. Next scene he walks into Marge’s trailer, asking, “Hey Marge, wanna marry Moe?” He gives a limp argument, blathers on about the ring Marge knows nothing about, and she just rolls over and agrees. Later, we get another scene in the trailer where Homer pours poison into Moe’s drink, and in similar fashion, Homer just yells his plan at Marge again in case people forgot. Then the story ends with the freaks killing Homer. Or, we get a random tag of him as a tarred and feathered limbless mound as the How I Met Your Mother theme plays. Boy, that show sure gives me the creeps.

Three items of note:
– I know I’ve mentioned this multiple times, but do they just hate Maggie Roswell or something? We get a scene from Miss Hoover, and the sound quality on her is just the worst it’s ever been. It sounds like they recorded her from under the couch or something.
– We get a wonderful scene of Skinner getting out of the car after being chewed out by Agnes for the umpteenth time, crumpling to the floor and rolling up into a ball. Agnes then berates him for having a panic attack and starts walloping him with her hand bag. Isn’t this great Halloween fun, everybody! This is just bizarre and depressing. Bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression… I believe any topic can be funny as long as it’s framed in the proper way, but as we’ve seen time and again from this show now, it really feels like the joke is just to laugh at the person. Martin is gay! The FBI agent last episode has a mental disorder! Skinner’s having an anxiety attack after decades of psychological torment! Let’s laugh at how broken he is!
– For the first time in years, Kang and Kodos actually cameo within a story rather than being isolated to their own cutaway or tagged on at the end. They’re one of the captives at Burns’ freak show (“Creatures from another galaxy!” “Actually, it’s more of a globular cluster!”) Then Burns drops a sheet over their domes, to their chagrin.

One good line/moment: The extended opening title sequence, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is the obvious pick. Although I do think it’s overly long and has way too much stuff going on, I still think it’s one of the coolest things to come out of the show in a long time. It’s clear del Toro just wanted to cram every single horror icon into one piece, including references to all of his movies. Personal highlights are the nuclear rod turning Homer into one of those horrific Blade vampires, Lisa jamming with all the iterations of the Phantom of the Opera through film history, and the pan-over prior to the Simpson house where it’s just a grab bag of all the monsters left on del Toro’s giant list.

531. Homerland

Original airdate: September 29, 2013

The premise:
Homer returns from a nuclear power convention acting strangely sedated, as well as refusing pork and beer. A concerned Lisa informs the FBI, believing her father has been brainwashed into enacting an attack on the power plant.

The reaction: For the show nowadays, a parody means just straight up recreating scenes from popular movies and TV shows shot-for-shot with a yellow coat of paint, desperately hoping some third-string entertainment news outlets will pump out a few articles about a Simpson-ized Game of Thrones couch gag. Here, we have an episode based on the Showtime series Homeland, which I basically know nothing about. The show is filled with scenes and flashbacks and an entire character that I supposed were pulled right from the show, but with no context, I didn’t know what to make of them. Hell, the episode opens with a recreation of the Homeland opening title sequence, so having not seen the show, I already felt alienated. So the plot is that Homer comes back from a convention acting really weird. He speaks in short, monotone sentences, and for unexplained reasons, he vehemently refuses pork chops and beer. Lisa is suspect, but Marge is none the wiser, loving her newly changed husband. I hate it when they write her this naive; she seriously has no concerns why Homer is acting so damn weird? From that point, it becomes another big mystery episode like “The Saga of Carl,” why is Homer acting so weird? Why is he praying on a rug? What’s that strange device he’s bringing into the plant? Lisa corners him on it, and we finally get our long, laboriously torturous explanation that goes on for two whole minutes. Some eco-friendly activists kidnapped Homer, told him pigs don’t like being eaten, gave him a detox, and the strange device is to sabotage the power plant’s air ducts, rendering the facility unworkable. What a logical explanation! Except none of that accounts for why Homer was talking so weird and creepy through the entire middle act. In the end, Burns gets the plant shut down by accident, but we get an end tag of it reopening because it has to. Similarly, a magic floating beer can appears to tempt Homer back to being his old self. What’s the damn point in making huge changes if you’re not going to bother resolving them in a meaningful way? Or at least in a funny way. But questions such at these are pretty futile to ask at this point.

Three items of note:
– We open on the breakfast table as Marge serves Bart cereal complete with his multiple medications mixed in (including Focusyn, because do you remember that?) He then recites the Wizard of Oz quote about the isosceles triangle. Lisa points out that’s incorrect, Bart then retorts that he’s rehearsing his lines for the Wizard of Oz play. It’s basically a repeat of the joke from “$pringfield,” except much more belabored, and not featuring Homer fishing Henry Kissinger’s glasses out of the toilet. Hell, that random joke even led into the plot with him wearing the glasses keeping him from getting fired.
– Kristen Wiig plays an FBI agent on the case, except she’s a complete maniac. I guess she’s supposed to be Claire Danes from the show, but I don’t know what to make of her. She seems spastic and incompetent, and she also takes bipolar medication, because mental disorders are hilarious! Is that from Homeland? Or just some thing they thought would be funny? I’m not the biggest fan of Wiig’s awkward, rambling brand of comedy, so I wasn’t won over by that either.
– Lisa confronts Homer in the plant operations center, that requires a facial scan of Mr. Burns to enter. They make a joke how she got in thanks to Girl Scout cookies or whatever, but this show has a debilitating habit of characters just appearing wherever they need to be regardless of logic or reason. I’m supposed to just go with it, but honestly, how the hell did Lisa get in there? Because she had to, because plot resolution.

One good line/moment: Homer gets into the operations center himself by holding up a disgusting craggly looking fish with Burns’ distinctive silhouette. The joke is slightly diminished in that it cuts to a close-up shot of the fish after it’s scanned, in case you missed the gag somehow.