573. Bull-E

Original airdate: May 10, 2015

The premise:
Marge’s meddling causes sweeping bully legislation to be passed and greatly enforced in Springfield. Homer is among those that must attend rehab, where he is forced to come to terms with why he continually abuses stupid Flanders.

The reaction: I wasn’t under the impression that Homer’s disdain toward his cheery neighbor-eeno was a big mystery, or something that even he didn’t realize himself, but I guess it looks like I was mistaken. Homer faces his feelings, but that’s really in the final third of the show, so let’s backtrack. Bart is humiliated by the bullies at the school dance, which provokes Marge to propose anti-bullying laws at a town hall meeting. From that point, Chief Wiggum basically takes to just arrested whoever he feels like who may or may not be transgressing these lenient laws (but of course if you couldn’t figure that out after watching him arrest four people, Lisa explains it for you, “The police are basically arresting anyone they want to!”) Like some modern episodes, there’s a hint of an idea here, of anti-bully crusaders becoming bullies themselves (South Park did a great show about this, three years prior), but it’s barely addressed at all. So we see Homer and a bunch of others are in rehab, with their session run by some guy voiced by Albert Brooks. His post-classic year appearances in “The Heartbroke Kid” and the movie have actually been very enjoyable, but this is the first character (and his latest to date) that I didn’t find funny at all, just a lot of him rambling and monologuing in a sort-of German accent. He berates Homer into engaging in his inner feelings about Flanders, and he shocks himself when he realizes he’s been jealous this whole time. Again, I’m not really sure how this is a revelation. In “Dead Putting Society,” Homer basically flat out admits he’s annoyed at his neighbor’s better life, and that was frigging twenty-five years ago. Later on, Flanders expresses his distaste of Homer’s behavior over the years, leaving him dumbfounded. So now, over two decades of abuse and torment, one of the show’s longest standing staples, and we have to resolve this conflict in under two minutes. Homer gets on his knees and begs his neighbor’s forgiveness, and when he waits on his lawn for days on end without moving, Flanders finally just gives in and forgives him. Brilliant. They didn’t even have to spew any more exposition, just have a character wait and say nothing, and the conflict will resolve itself!

Three items of note:
– Bart is nervous about going to the school dance, and is uneasy when a fifth grade girl with no name asks him to dance. We then get an extended bit involving the “Puberty Demon” who makes some obvious jokes. But as I’ve mentioned before, you can’t have Bart have direct and open relationships with girls and then turn around and show him as an ignorant naive little kid (many times within the same episode). Hell, didn’t we have him lusting over Milhouse’s cousin just last episode?
– I’m really surprised at how bad the Albert Brooks role was. I don’t think they even gave him a name. I’m also surprised that this deep into season 26, I can still be disappointed by something, or experience a first in terms of a fall from grace for this show, but here we are. Like I said, his post-classic roles have been engaging and fun for the most part, but here, I didn’t laugh once. I just didn’t get what his character was, ultimately.
– The final act also skirts the edge of being actual commentary, where Homer is decreed a town hero, I guess for coming to terms with his assholery in one therapy session. He throws out the first pitch, gets a car in a parade, and people are lined up for his autograph. Is this like when we easily forgive celebrities for making amends for shit that they caused themselves? Or something like that? I’m not exactly clear on what they’re doing, but then again, that’s normal for me watching this show nowadays.

One good line/moment: The fantasy sequence of a whiny Jesus being bullied under the eyes of a disappointed God was kind of amusing (“Forgive them, Father!” “I raised a wuss.”) Tossing Jesus’ halo up on the roof like a Frisbee was a nice touch.

572. Let’s Go Fly A Coot

Original airdate: May 3, 2015

The premise:
Abe is reunited with an old buddy from the Air Force, giving us another rambling story from his military past. Meanwhile, Bart develops a crush on Milhouse’s Dutch cousin, who gets him to take up e-cigarettes.

The reaction: Two more inane and aimless stories to throw on the pile. First, Abe’s old army buddies are disgusted at Homer’s treatment of his father, and they proceed to harass and harangue him into treating him better. They all go out to see not-The Expendables, then proceed to hold Homer at gunpoint at the veteran’s hall until he and his father have hugged for a sufficient period of time.
Meanwhile, the only reason the B-plot exists is because an actress named Carice Van Houten in on Game of Thrones, and she’s named like Milhouse’s name, so that’s funny, right? It’s yet another Bart-falls-for-an-older-girl story like we’ve seen with Shauna or Mary Spuckler, but there’s not as much time devoted to it to feel as weird or uncomfortable as those examples. So the two plots “meet” when Bart runs into the kitchen announcing “they’re” sending Ms. Van Houten back to Holland (not quite sure who “they” is and why. Kirk and Luann? Her parents?) So Abe weaves a tale about him doing some stupid in the Air Force in a boring flashback, that I guess the point is about the power of grand stupid gestures to win people over (ending with a cameo by Mona, so we get yet another appearance from Glenn Close. Can we get any farther away from “Mother Simpson” at this point?) Of course this crush is meaningless; the girl uses Bart to get her new e-cigs, which he seems fine with, but then at the end, after the cliche race to the airport scene, we get a twist where Bart rejects her before she leaves, except it’s completely unmotivated. We also get a bunch of peppered moments of Milhouse being disturbing and gross toward Bart (“Now you know what nuzzling me would be like!” “If it’s the blue hair and the schnozz you’re digging, I’ve got plenty more cousins!”) Another worthless use of twenty minutes.

Three items of note:
– The opening features an elaborate birthday party for Milhouse, and Homer, for whatever reason, exposits out loud that this new trend has gone too far for parental expectations, and makes it his mission over the ensuing montage to ruin kids’ birthday parties the town over. Later, he’s accosted in his home by “Big Birthday,” led by a man in a suit who proceeds to scream at him for over a minute about some stupid shit, which ultimately leads in Homer cutting a deal that he’ll have to throw a lavish shindig for Rod Flanders. It’s at that party that Bart meets Milhouse’s cousin. But wouldn’t he have run into her at Milhouse’s party? These scripts are so piecemealed together, it really doesn’t even matter.
– Another joke that could have been amusing, but then was driven into the ground into the center of the Earth. Homer and Abe see a movie preview set in a dystopian future, causing the former to comment, “Finally, a movie about a dystopian future!” Despite the fact he just repeated what the trailer VO just said, there’s something to be said about the recent overabundance of grimdark-type movies. But then Homer begins to list off a bunch of movies within the last five years by name. For a long, long, long time. Thirty seconds of him just saying movie titles. It’s torturous. So, so, so fucking bad. After all this time, with so many of this atom bombs of anti-humor, I still wonder whether through all the stages of production if the writers think this shit is funny, or if they just don’t care. How much apathy to your job can you possibly have?
– Toward the end of the flashback, Abe hitches a ride with author Jack Kerouac, who for some reason, gives him a copy of his condensed manuscript of On the Road, and his original, “rambling, repetitive” version he’s written on a gigantic scroll, wanting Abe to destroy it, because who better to trust to dispose of a piece of writing you want no one else to ever read ever than a total stranger? The manuscript is immediately destroyed by a low flying plane’s engine, leaving only the scroll. Now, call me an uncultured swine, but I know absolutely nothing about On the Road. Wikipedia reveals the scroll is the real first draft, but I don’t see anything about people thinking it to be extremely verbose or cumbersome. Did one of the writers just recently read it, learn about its history, and decide to take an relatively obscure in-joke shot at Kerouac? It felt very strange, especially considering how most pop culture this show trots out today is an attempt to stay relevant. Or, at least a few years old relevant.

One good line/moment: An oddly wonderful dark moment where Homer knocks Krusty out with a sledgehammer to replace him at a kid’s birthday party. Cut to the curtain opening to Homer dressed as the clown, appearing dead with a noose around his neck, holding a sign reading “LAUGH AT THIS.” I wish after the kids screamed they would have just cut, because Homer coming back to life to do a bad Krusty imitation kind of ruins the dark edge of it.

571. The Kids Are All Fight

Original airdate: April 26, 2015

The premise:
Marge spins a tale of six years prior about how li’l Bart and Lisa wouldn’t stop fighting, and how they eventually learned to tolerate each other.

The reaction: In the classic era, flashback shows always had a purpose, an underlying motive for why we’re looking back at our characters’ pasts. How Homer fell in love with Marge, the birth of their children, even “Lisa’s Sax” highlighted Lisa’s upbringing and how the saxophone became her creative and intellectual outlet. This episode is about how four-year-old Bart and two-year-old Lisa didn’t get along. I can recall plenty of times these two get on each others’ nerves in the present, so I don’t quite know what has changed. We see the two kids fighting endlessly, then later they end up lost, and engage in dialogue that makes absolutely no sense for a two and four year old (“I guess you should be in charge, Lisa. You’ll always be half my age, but you’ll always be smarter than me.” “Don’t worry, Bart. You’ll always think you’re in charge, even though I secretly will be.”) In the end, Bart saves Lisa after putting her in danger, and then the conflict is resolved when she just gives up, deciding there’s no point fighting with her dim-witted brother. So, that’s our resolution, I guess, two-year-old Lisa throws up her hands and gives up. Yay? Another big part of flashback shows is lampooning the past, along with seeing how different the citizens of Springfield were. We got great material out of the 70s and 80s, but now thanks to this show’s floating timeline, this memory takes place in the far-off year of 2009. The show keeps this as ambiguous as possible (Marge narrates, “The president of back then was the president, the popular music of those times was all the rage…”) but it only serves to make this feel more like an exercise of futility. Nothing about this past feels different than the present. Honestly, this whole story could have been done in the present; Bart and Lisa fight about something, their parents get fed up, they run off and get lost, and eventually have to work together to get home. A worthless excuse for a flashback episode.

Three items of note:
– The impetus of the story is that Homer finds a long undeveloped roll of film in his jacket, and the family gathers at Moe’s to see the photos, which are all Bart and Lisa fighting. Here’s Marge and Bart right before our set-up (“Well, it’s quite a story, a story of a special bond between a brother and a sister.” “I’d say our story’s a tragedy, like the Planet of the Apes. The tragedy being they can never stop making them!” “Hey, come on, the first and eighth movies were pretty darn good.”) The dialogue on this show is overall awful, but sometimes you get exchanges like this that make my brain curl even more. This sounds like canned interchangeable banter from a D-grade variety show, and it’s delivered as lifelessly as one. Marge later realizes why they never developed the film, because it would bring back these memories of the kids. But, Homer just randomly found the roll of film… ah, whatever. Who has the mental capacity to remember what happened four minutes ago, huh?
– The plot progression of the flashback is weird. Flanders invites Homer and Marge out for a brunch date and offers babysitting services. When getting ready to go out, the two decide to fuck instead, as they role play as a seagull and a trash can (don’t even ask), and meanwhile we see Bart and Lisa being watched by Grandma Flanders at the same time. Later, we see that Homer and Marge ultimately made it to brunch as they drive back home. So how long were they keeping the Flanders’ waiting while they were screwing? Two, three hours? By the end, Homer and Marge randomly find the kids sitting atop the tire fire. Homer saves them by bending a tree branch to get them down, but then it ends up snapping back, sending the kids flying through the air across the town. But not to worry, they end up flying through Bart’s open window and land comfortably on the clown bed. Good thing this is a cartoon, where there are absolutely no stakes whatsoever!
– More attempts at fan service as we get a reappearance of Bart’s creepy clown bed from “Lisa’s First Word.” Then Grandma Flanders shows up, spouting, “Hello, Joe!” I really don’t get it, are there people who actually like when this happens? I guess there’s two ways to think of it, I would think that writing the show now, you wouldn’t want to remind people of the classic years, but I guess these little injections of nostalgia are enough to convince some people they’re not watching a pile of garbage wearing the skin of a loved one.

One good line/moment: The therapist, wanting nothing more to do with Homer and Marge, proposes a trust exercise, and has the two close their eyes. When they open two seconds later, she has already bolted, her chair slightly swiveling in her absence.

570. Peeping Mom

(I paused at just the right frame to catch this animation mistake. Creepy eyeless Marge grabbing a scared Bart, that sounds like an interesting Treehouse of Horror.)

Original airdate: April 19, 2015

The premise:
After a rampage with a bulldozer that Bart may or may not have been responsible for, Marge takes to watching her son like a hawk, following him everywhere he goes. Meanwhile, Flanders gets a new dog.

The reaction: This has got to be one of the worst episodes in a while; it’s one of those shows where it feels like literally nothing is happening, because literally nothing is happening. The story is so razor thin, I can’t believe they managed to stretch this shit to twenty minutes. We start with Chief Wiggum laying blame on Bart for a bulldozer rampage with no reason or evidence. Marge asks what happened with the bulldozer. Bart deflects and doesn’t commit to an answer. That exchange is repeated, no joke, at least seven times through the show. And neither party really pushes past this, especially Marge, who you think would be more proactive in asking for an explanation or figuring out through other means what happened. But if she did any of that, we wouldn’t have our hilarious story, where Marge follows Bart to school, to his hiding spot in the woods, when he sneaks out at night, all culminating in her asking about the bulldozer over and over. By the time she throws her hands up and says she’s done with Bart, we’re fourteen minutes in, and we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere from minute two. After commercial break, we see Bart is scheming to “prank” the Springfield sign rechristening by tearing down most of the letters with a bulldozer. So, after setting up that we should be wondering whether or not Bart was guilty or not, they just openly show you he is. But maybe he’s not? Surely this is some kind of bait and switch? Maybe? Also, what kind of a prank is this? He’s going to change ‘SPRINGFIELD’ to ‘FIE,’ as in the olde English term for expressing disgust. What a stretch. At the event, seated in the bulldozer, Bart has a change of heart, reunites with his mom, and then finally admits he did the bulldozer thing. And then is arrested. I can’t even call this storytelling lazy, because it literally didn’t even try. Was it too much to ask for some kind of twist, like Bart was forced to do it, or he was protecting someone and didn’t want to say, or some kind of subversion as to why he was so guarded and didn’t want to admit it. But why bother doing that? The first two-thirds are positing whether Bart did something, then we immediately told visually that he did it, and then at the very end, he admits he did it. Rousing, isn’t it? This one isn’t as aggressively terrible as other episodes we’ve seen, but it’s definitely going to stick in my mind as one of the worst just from a complete lack of giving a shit.

Three items of note:
– Because Marge can only ask Bart about the bulldozer so many times, we have a B-plot to pad things out. Flanders gets a small little dog, but is saddened that he seems to have a greater bond with Homer. When he sadly gives the dog away to him, Homer refuses, seeing that his neighbor could really use the pick-me-up. And that’s it. Just as bare bones as the main plot. This applies to a lot of the episode, but especially this B-plot, there didn’t even seem to be a lot of jokes in it. Like, not even failed attempts at jokes (see: 98% of the show’s humor now), just bits of the dog being cute and Homer having fun with it, and then at the end, Homer has an internal monologue explaining why he won’t accept the dog. We just saw that with Lisa in “Pay Pal,” and I think one or two other times, even in situations where a character can’t talk out loud to themselves to describe what they’re feeling and are about to do, the writers still find a way: if they can exposit it out loud, they can just think it! Brilliant!
– Bart dons a ninja outfit to skateboard in the middle of the night, and Marge follows suit in her own ninja outfit. As does Maggie. Then we get a boring chase montage, that for some reason, is set to what sounds like a rearrangement of the theme from the Simpsons arcade game. We also get a lame duck joke of Bart skating by the cast of characters he does in the opening titles (almost) every week, and after he leaves, Moe gives the all clear and they all funnel into Moe’s. Never mind why all these characters would be there at night, who cares? Are you feeling serviced, fans?
– The ending is such fucking shit. Right before he’s about to pull back on the bulldozer, Bart finds a tupperware of chicken and a sweet note from Marge, making him reconsider his plan. But just seeing that isn’t enough. We get a thought bubble of the two hugging before the Springfield sign, then the letters drop and Marge is devastated. Did we really need to be told that Marge wouldn’t like that Bart did this “prank”? So instead of just not doing it, he changes plans, instead leaving only the letters “FD,” which the mindless crowd ends up thinking is for the Fire Department. Why is that any better? If anything, it destroyed even more letters than “FIE.” And a giant letter also crushed Mayor Quimby. But Marge is still pleased anyway; she’s pissed when Bart admits the truth, but is placated by a hug anyway. My God, this episode is a huge piece of shit.

One good line/moment: That screenshot above. One single frame, that’s all this episode is good for.

569. Waiting For Duffman

Original airdate: March 15, 2015

The premise:
Homer is chosen to be the new Duffman. At first he is shocked to find that he’s not allowed to drink in his new title, but after seeing the detriments of alcohol abuse sober, he crusades to get people to quit drinking.

The reaction: Pretty surprised it took them this long to do this idea. I feel like it was already done in the comics years ago. So following an injury, the old Duffman is forcibly retired, and Duff is on the hunt for a replacement. So Homer is among a bunch of finalists for So You Think You Can Duff?, a competition reality show thing, because those parodies aren’t completely played out at this point. We also get the reappearance of Stacy Keach as the Duff CEO from “Hungry, Hungry Homer,” an episode I recall being one of the only bright spots in a dismal twelfth season. He’s fine here, but as with any guest voice, he has very, very little to work with. When Homer is picked, he is devastated to learn he can’t drink on the job (and suicidal in a “hilarious” sequence involving him repeatedly trying to kill himself after learning the news), and then later crusades against drinking when he realizes how much damage alcohol addiction creates. So the last half is kind of like if you mashed “Duffless” and “Lisa the Beauty Queen” together, made them more incoherent and added a bunch of bullshit on top. There’s a kernel of an idea here about the Duff company being surprised that as a big fat guy, Homer is a more relatable Duffman to their consumer base, but it’s just one line that comes up fifteen minutes in. We see Homer at a ribbon cutting and in a commercial, but because the reality show crap took up so much time, we barely have enough time to see how Homer feels about his new position before we have to pivot to his anti-drinking crusade, which is squeezed into the final minutes. He incites a riot at a racetrack, where they flip over the car he’s in, but then they literally just stand around and watch as the Duff boss recaps what’s happening (“Homer, now listen to me, you’re in a stadium surrounded by people who want to kill you. There’s one way out of your hell: prove you still love beer.”) Homer then drinks himself stupid, and then we cut to him at Moe’s being proud of being a has-been. So I guess even though he did as asked, he still got fired? There wasn’t even a scene explaining what happened, or why Homer all of a sudden switched gears to drinking again. This seems to happen a lot, where these stories just sort of stop with no clear resolution. Surely the writers must notice they have no ending, right? …right?

Three items of note:
– Marge is a bigger doormat than usual this show. She astutely points out that Homer only wants to be Duffman to get blasted, but then he fires back with some bullshit about wanting to be remembered for more than just being a husband and father. You’d think Marge would be slightly hurt by that statement, but instead she gives Homer permission to try out for Duffman, like a mom allowing her kid to go out and play. Later, Marge seems completely won over by Homer’s bullshit lies about wanting to be Duffman for the responsibilities and social good he can do. Or whatever. At the climax, when Homer is deciding whether or not to drink, from the crowd, Marge reassures him (“Whatever you do, you’ll be my hero.”) Someone should do a supercut of all of the times in the last fifteen years Marge has said “I’m so proud of you,” or “You’re my hero,” without any rhyme or reason as to why she would say that. It’s just empty sweet nothings that don’t mean anything; why would she be proud of Homer in this situation?
– Our second act begins with them recreating the Game of Thrones opening again, like they had done previously for a couch gag, except this time it’s for a commercial advertising Homer as the new Duffman. Again, there’s nothing parody about this, it’s just recreating elements of the show, but with Duff wallpaper over it. Afterwards, Homer gets sworn in as Duffman and has to take an oath inside a church. It’s a dramatic recitation that takes almost a minute and is completely joke-free. Later, we get a glimpse of an old-time 50s Duff commercial, featuring not-Yogi Bear soothing his bear trap-snared leg with a cool refreshing Duff, and later joining a bunch of other animal heads on the wall. How bland and boring. Compare that to the commercial in “Duffless” with the doctor’s recommendation and Duff being proud sponsor of The Amos ‘N’ Andy Show. That bit was actually saying something, and being funny all at the same time. This new commercial, I guess it’s funny because the cartoon bear got killed. It’s like what the show thinks Itchy & Scratchy is now, violence for its own sake is good enough!
– More bizarre fan service: Bart and Lisa dig into Homer’s Duff swag and are playing with T-shirt cannons, leading Homer to comment, no one’s ever been killed with one of those! Now, I’ll be honest, if it was just left there, that actually is a clever, if somewhat ghastly, in-joke. But let’s go one further. A T-shirt gets lodged through Ned’s bedroom window, smacks right into a picture frame of Maude, causing it to break and fall off the wall. Then Ned looks to the camera for a second or two before we cut. Now, why exactly is this scene here? If you’re a fan of the show, surely you’ve made the T-shirt cannon connection. This show once prided itself on rewarding viewers for paying attention, with its sign gags and quick multi-layered jokes. Now, everything is so over-explained and labored over, as well as just milked and elongated to make the show longer, the show just repeatedly saying, “DO YOU GET IT? DO YOU? DO YOU?!” Also, how fucking sad for Ned, especially at this point being a double widower; what exactly is funny about him being specifically reminded of his first wife’s death?

One good line/moment: Airing a week after his death, the show ends with a small little tribute to Sam Simon, with a clip of him talking about how much he loved what he was working on. Reading up on the history of the show, as well as John Ortved’s unauthorized history book, it’s clear just how much of the foundation of the world of the show really came from Sam, and without him, the show would definitely not have been as amazing as it was. He of course left the show after the fourth season, and while I could ruminate on that, or make some snarky comment about how he probably hates how the show is now, but I don’t wanna. Between being a driving force on the greatest show of all time and his charitable efforts over the past few decades, from all accounts, he just sounded like one helluva guy. We Simpsons fans can’t thank you enough, Sam. Peace and chicken grease.