537. Yellow Subterfuge

Original airdate: December 8, 2013

The premise:
Principal Skinner barters a field trip on a nuclear sub off to the most well behaved students. When Bart tries and fails to pass his overly strict criteria, he teams up with Homer to get revenge by making Skinner think he killed his mother. Meanwhile, Lisa saves Krusty from bankruptcy by convincing him to license his show out to foreign markets.

The reaction: Boy oh boy, what a spectacle this was. Skinner starts the episode drunk with power as he spends over a minute on this belabored setup: he’s giving all the students a clean slate to get a chance to take a trip on a submarine, but one slip-up and you’re out. While an actually authoritative Skinner is at least a little pleasing to see, it all feels so meaningless. Bart pathetically sucks up to him, but Skinner busts him for a small transgression anyway, and no amount of sad puppy dog eyes from Bart will sway him. It feels so vindictive for no real reason; even if Skinner had said this was to stick it to Bart for the years of torment, it would be flimsy. So Bart wants his revenge, and boy does he get it. Skinner awakens one morning to find Agnes lying on the kitchen flood in a puddle of blood and a giant combat knife lodged in her back. Homer and Bart arrive to witness the scene, so now they’ve got him by the balls. I’ll say this plot twist certainly alerted me from my usual state of half paying attention to these episodes. Good thing Skinner didn’t bother to check if his mother was still breathing, or touch the body at all, or be able to tell the difference between blood and jam, or any of the multitude of things that one would do to be able to easily tell that she’s not dead. Also, why does Skinner automatically assume he did it, and not think his mother was murdered? I assume the combat knife may be from his army days and that his prints are on it, and that was it, but why do I have to make that assumption? The show feebly attempted to set this up with an earlier phone call where Skinner angrily hangs up on his mother and stares daggers at her picture (“Some days I wish I could just kill you.”) But these are like the tinest of breadcrumbs I’m lapping up here. A better twist would be that Skinner is thrilled to be rid of his mother, and gleefully assists Homer and Bart with the disposal of her body, throwing them off guard. Maybe that would be too grim, but when you’re at episode 537, why the fuck not? Instead, Skinner becomes the spineless limp noodle he’s known for nowadays, going along with their stupid scheme, wearing a crazy disguise and being carted off onto a bus in a potato sack. He returns to face the music for his crime, but Marge randomly puts a stop to the whole charade and reveals Agnes is alive. Agnes first appears heartbroken, but it was actually just a setup for a joke to end the show on (“But when I just heard you say you were glad to see me dead, I thought now I’m gonna be meaner than ever!”) Nothing gained, nothing lost. What an insane episode. Sorry, that’s one letter too many. Inane episode. That’s it.

Three items of note:
– The B story starts when Lisa just so happens to ride her bike by Krusty’s mansion, and Krusty just spews out all his financial problems to this little girl she doesn’t recognize. Lisa then gives Krusty the idea to sell his image to overseas markets, because of course she would know about that, as she handily whips out an iPad that had a foreign version of SpongeBob set up and ready to play, a time-killing segment which I don’t even really understand. This would almost be a rip-off of “Homie the Clown” if the plot were developed further and I could understand what was going on. We get a tortuously long section devoted to Jamaican Krusty and their Itchy and Scratchy equivalent, The Itchem & Scratchem Blow, complete with a whole new theme song. I don’t even need to tell you what the new lyrics were, or what the cartoon was, I’m sure you can make an educated guess. The ending of the plot is almost an afterthought, played at the very end of the episode. And it’s not even an ending, the foreign Krustys chase Krusty and his lawyer in a golf cart and that’s it.
– We open with a daydream of Skinner as a Wild West sheriff, complete with his own theme song, that plays throughout the episode. Just over and over again. Between this, Jamaican I & S, “You Only Live Once,” Burns’ song from the wrestling episode… songs on this show used to be so damn catchy and memorable and funny. Now it’s just like… where are the jokes? Plus, it was a little disconcerting seeing Skinner dream about blowing up students’ heads (graphically and on screen), and then seeing Sherri and Terri in saloon girl attire, and have one faint at the sight of Skinner. Weeeeeeiiiirrrd and creeeepyy.
– There were a few small jokes at the beginning that bothered me, so I’ll condense them here. First, the submarine video ends with a context-free “YVAN EHT NIOJ” on the screen, one of the most transparent instances of fan service the show’s ever done. The joke is, “I remember that episode!” At the end of the assembly scene, Bart aborts mission on a prank by freeing his piloted drone. Then we see it flies all the way up to space somehow, passing by Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and the busted space station from Gravity (“Help! I’m trapped in space with a man I don’t like!”) As the movie had just released this fall, it felt like the show trying to quickly crowbar in a topical reference last minute; I wouldn’t be surprised if this was animated well after the fact of the episode itself. And it’s not even a joke. That line feels more like giving context to make sure the audience recognizes that it’s Gravity and not just two random astronauts in space. And again, this is fucking Family Guy level shit. I KNOW WHAT GRAVITY IS SO I CLAP NOW. Lastly, Homer goes to Moe’s after dinner, but can only leave if Marge blows into the breathalyzer for him. What a sad, sad scene; this poor, poor woman enabling her husband to drive drunk to a bar where he’ll get even more drunk, and then drive back. This is like frat boy shenanigans, not something I would expect Marge fucking Simpson to put up with.

One good line/moment: Irish Krusty got a chuckle out of me (“Me ma, she had twelve children, but only three lived, then they closed the mill. …hey hey.”) But then they use him two more times and the joke gets less and less funny. But that’s standard procedure with anything halfway decent nowadays; if it worked once, it can work five or six more times!

12 thoughts on “537. Yellow Subterfuge

  1. Lisa’s presence on the B-plot is very forced, I think Krusty isn’t a character enough to sustain a story.

  2. It really depresses me that we’re now at the point that we can only call 1/3 of the series good. Some would say even less than that, but I’m being generous.

    1. First 7-8 seasons were some of the best television ever made. 9 was iffy but good. After that, shit that continues to become so much shittier it makes the earlier shit look like not shit. But it was still shit. That “Yvan Eht Nioj” is considered “fan service” speaks volumes about how terrible things have gotten.

  3. It’s funny how I thought the “YVAN EHT NIOJ” episode was garbage when I first saw it all those years (decades?) ago, but I saw it again recently after having watched more recent Simpsons episodes and it seems like a total masterpiece (even with the N*Sync appearance!).

    1. Time and this shows refusal to die have certainly made episodes I was highly critical of back in the day like “Trash of the Titans” and “The Joy of Sect” seem downright classic in hindsight. I recently rewatched the Lisa MENSA episode again and it was HILARIOUS

    2. I’ve found the Scully era in general has aged better than I thought it would. The characters may be jackasses, but at least those episodes have actual jokes with humor.

      1. Scully’s episodes seem to have gotten a bad rap mainly because they had the misfortune of immediately following the Oakley & Weinstein years–the twilight of the golden era of The Simpsons. The Scully era represented the beginning of the show’s slide away from the excellence that defined its first eight seasons, so I think there’s still a lot of fan bitterness over them. Still, I’d take (almost) anything from seasons 9-12 over (almost) any episode since.

  4. “I’ve found the Scully era in general has aged better than I thought it would. The characters may be jackasses, but at least those episodes have actual jokes with humor.”

    I agree. But then, I’ve never shared the same level of vitriol for the Scully era as most Simpsons fans.

  5. Confusing as heck it was, but “Spugna Roberto Quadrati Pantaloni” got a chuckle outta me (“Calamari? NOOOO!”)

  6. The ending of this episode kinds of implies that skinner is humping his mom. Isn’t that just a lovely thought.

  7. While I never found Yellow Subterfuge borderline unwatchable, I still found it bad enough to be among the Top 10 Worst The Simpsons episodes of the 2010s. Mainly due to the fact that both plots either just end badly, or both of them do not end at all.

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