608/609. The Great Phatsby

Original airdate: January 15, 2017

The premise:
Mr. Burns befriends billionaire rapper Jay G, who teaches him the joys of recklessly overspending on extravagance. When Burns goes broke and Jay acquires all his assets, he devises his revenge with the help of Jay’s former band mates and his ex-wife.

The reaction: What’s another gimmick we can garner headlines with? An hour-long (forty minute) episode? Sure, let’s go with that. Unsurprisingly, this is a story that feels like it would have been just fine played out at normal length, artificially extended with redundant fluff and B-stories that go nowhere fast. It also features some of the most pathetically feeble Burns this show has ever seen. Things start off with him wanting to regain his youthful exuberance by throwing a party, which thanks to Smithers entrusting Homer to rewrite the guest list with living people, results in Burns’ summer house being filled with the usual Springfield suspects. Burns doesn’t seem to mind, and he throws a truly sad soiree, making the dancers wear foot cozies to a band of two people. The likes of Moe and Skinner ultimately chew him out for such a sorry display, and the night ends with Burns standing on his dock crying. And that’s not the first time he cries this episode. Burns is alerted to an actual happening party going on across the bay, so he and Homer investigate (from this point, Homer just inexplicably becomes Burns’ loyal right-hand man.) Said party is being held by rapper Jay G, who has Burns’ book on business to thank for his flagrant lifestyle. He teaches Burns the wonder of an platinum card with no spending limit, where we get a montage of the two going on a spending spree. They get flashy new outfits, Burns has his own posse… they stopped just short of giving him a gold grill. It’s episode summaries like these that make me wonder why I should bother writing an actual review. Do I need to tell you why this is out-of-character for Burns? But it turns out Jay G was purposefully trying to bankrupt Burns, and he takes everything from him, including the nuclear plant. The first half ends with Burns crumpling to a heap crying his eyes out. The very, very few times we saw Burns cry in the original run, they were always very purposeful, and quite powerful. Now, it’s basically a joke for Homer to narrate over talking about how pitiful it is. Part two is Burns’ revenge scheme, where, after gaining insight into the rap game, gathers together a team to write the “ultimate diss rap.” Yes, this is real. He records the likes of Snoop Dogg, Common, and others in order to get Jay G back. I don’t quite see how this gets him his fortune back, the only thing Burns really cares about, but whatever. Jay G ends up paying off Burns’ artists and acquires his song, and in the end, it’s revealed the only reason he betrayed Burns was because he was following his book, where you must betray your master as the last step in getting ahead. Jay G is such a non-developed character that this revelation feels even more out of left field because we’ve had to wait over twenty minutes for it. It would still be a piece of garbage, but this show would have definitely improved being normal length. But the show got its brief window of moderate press for their one-hour episode extravaganza, and I guess that’s all that matters.

Three items of note:
– There are two separate disposable B-stories to pass the time, one in the first half, one in the second. During Homer and Burns’ misadventure, the Simpsons are stuck in the Hamptons for an indeterminate length of time, so we get to see what they’re up to. Story one features Lisa developing a crush on a snooty rich kid, and him trying to change for her. But that one sentence description is giving it too much credit. Scene one is him cutting in line, Lisa standing up to him, and him inviting her out because blah blah blah. Scene two is them on his boat, he abuses some whales, and Lisa breaks down. Scene three we see him as a changed activist, but Lisa defies his protest to get a chance to comb a pony. S’about it. Also the boy is Hank Azaria doing an adult voice, which struck me as very weird and slightly creepy. By story two, the Simpsons have been in the Hamptons for so long, Marge opens her own crappy crafts store and starts to lose her mind, much like I am after watching so many of these episodes. These are the very definition of filler. They have zero connection to the main story, and they’re barely narratives themselves. Homer just pops into Marge’s store twice and has no idea what’s going on and has no opinion of it, let alone the issue of how she’s affording this in the first place. Again, without this useless fluff, this could have easily been a tight twenty minute show. Well, relatively tight.
– Here’s a sizable mistake I’m surprised got through (well, not that surprised). Homer is in awe of Jay G’s beloved pet goose, and upon watching it eat, says this: “He eats the same way I do: without swallowing!” I believe the word they were searching for was “chewing.” It eats without chewing. This line got through the table read, the voice-over record, and numerous test screenings, and I guess no one was paying enough attention to care (part of me doesn’t blame them.) On top of that, it’s effectively a repeat of the exchange from “Homer’s Enemy” where Lenny and Carl agree Homer eats like a duck. So not only do they poorly recreate old jokes and bits, now they can’t even do it with the correct vocabulary.
– We get our cabal of guest stars in the second half, starting with Keegan-Michael Key as the latest extremely talented comedian to slum in through one of these shit scripts. He appears earlier on the Hampton streets as an unassuming candle vendor who exchanges words with Bart, then Homer helpfully butts in with narration (“So Bart met someone who I think comes back later. I forget why.”) Later, when he does reappear, the Homer narration returns (“Told yah this guy would come back! Told yah!“) We wouldn’t want audiences to strain their brains too hard about a complicated story point of a character reappearing later in the narrative without fully explaining it to them. Their brains might overheat! I shudder to think of what a modern “Who Shot Mr Burns?” would be like. Anyway, Key’s character is later joined by RZA, Snoop Dogg and Common (Homer never sounded whiter reading out those names), who do their rap sections, then later stand in a row and say their one-off lines one after another. Taraji P. Henson also appears as Jay G’s ex-wife… sigh… Praline. Her character on Empire‘s name is Cookie. You get the joke? Empire is this huge critical and commercial success, and this is the extent they can parody it? It really is just so sad.

One good line/moment: It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs that even at forty minutes you just get one giant goose egg (ha ha ha). I give points to Keegan-Michael Key for actually trying despite having no material, per usual. I always like listening to him, he’s a great performer.

26 thoughts on “608/609. The Great Phatsby

  1. In addition to Zombie Simpsons I also lije to call the current show Baby’s First Simpsons because it plays exactly like a brighter, sanitized and extremely dumbed down version of the classic Simpsons for adult audiences.

    This season even has Bart & at Lisa at the beginning intriducing the episide to the audience and at the end explaining the moral. Add to that all the over-explaining of everything, the narration and even the more rounded out, dead-eyed and stiff character animation and this is Baby’s First Simpsons

    1. This is an excellent way to look at the show now. It’s not aggressively terrible like it was in the Scully/early Jean years, but it’s more like a non-threatening interpretation of what people think The Simpsons is.

    1. Not sure if you’ve watched the episode yourself (if you haven’t don’t), but Homer is frequently attacked by the goose, and as you may have guessed it really isn’t funny in the slightest.

      1. One thing I’ve learned about Zombie Simpsons is that Mike watches it so I don’t have to. I’m sure the gag works a thousand times better as a half-second glance at a screengrab than being bludgeoned with it a dozen times over a 40-some minute episode.

  2. I have to confess I watched this episode hoping for a “Great Gatsby” “parody” (i.e. recreation with Simpsons characters).
    I like the book (and the movie as well (the Paul Newman version, I watched 3 minutes of the Leo version and got annoyed by it)) and I figured seeing Simpsons character recreate the book could be mildly amusing.
    As it turns out, the references from this episode to the “Great Gatsby” are: (1) the title; (2) Burns’ very brief and vague flashback to his youth and (3) I think there’s a “green light across the bay” reference.
    So I guess: kudos on subverting my expectations? By being boring in an unexpected way?

  3. Good god was the goose plot awful. As for the episode, it’s pretty forgettable, like the rest of the season. In fact, the only reason I remember this episode is because of three things:

    1. It was advertised all over the place for being the “first ever hour long episode” despite Who Shot Mr Burns? being an hour long first. I guess it doesn’t count because it didn’t air as one hour initially. :/

    2. It is a complete waste of the talented Key.

    3. It is meant to be a parody of that really shitty movie adaptation from a few years ago that didn’t understand rap music does not belong in the 1920s.

    It’s also just Kevin Michael Richardson playing the same character he already played a few episodes ago and will play once more in the next episode. The man doesn’t even try to change his voice up in this show. Speaking of the next episode, good god is that a stinker. Probably the second worst one of the season. Come to think of it, I believe he is in every remaining episode this season.

    If you think Mr Burns is out of character here, just wait a few episodes when he starts to make bets about relationships and hiring Homer to be a teacher at his university.

  4. If they cut out the b-plots and all the filler, it could’ve been a normal 22 minute episode easily. So why was this the hour long episode instead of the one they kept pushing back because they wanted it to be the movie, The Man Who Came to Be Dinner? Just because?

    1. I have a quote for you to answer your first question:

      “This was just going to be a regular episode, but the table read went so well, in a fit of passion and excitement and ambition and excess, we decided to supersize it,” said Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman. “And we haven’t done a huge amount of stories in the world of hip-hop and rap culture, so we just went for it.”

      Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/simpsons-plot-all-star-hip-hop-homage-to-great-gatsby-w433434

      1. You really love to torture us with Matt Selman pathetic delirium, don’t you?
        But I can understand that, my friend.. any of us who watches or is still someway somehow following this show is at least a little bit of a sadistic masochistic pig.

      2. As people who listen to the commentaries have pointed out, Matt Selman comes across as a delusional kissass. It’s no surprise he’s been a major force in shaping the Simpsons into what it is today.

      3. Di Ed, I’m a completionist. I just can’t quit watching a show once I get invested in it no matter how bad it gets. Of course, the problem is, The Simpsons have gone on far longer than all of those other shows except save the anime One Piece (which is still amazing even 800 episodes in).

      4. Kaiju no Kami, One Piece doesn’t count, it s not a comedy show, it’s an anime. It’s way easier to do it compared to a comedy show, which is the most difficult thing to do(when it’s done well, obviously).

        Anyway, I’m the opposite: I love One Piece, but I stopped following it cause I lose interest in anything that last too much. Artistically I find it a fatal flaw: when you create something great you always have to leave something not told, the dream of seeing more of it. It’s like a dessert: it must be big enough to make your taste buds fall in love with it and enjoy eating it, but it should never be too big: a great dessert must leave you with the “I’m full, but it was so good that I could eat it again” feeling.

        But it’s just a technical flaw: people have different tastes and different stomach, and until the restaurant keeps making money with their immense desserts, I will always be wrong.
        And, anyway, I sincerely appreciate your indestructible loyalty.

      5. Perhaps they haven’t done many stories about hip-hop and rap culture because the Simpsons are a 1990s white family in a dull, uncultured, predominantly white shithole?

        Also, because the writers lack the talent and insight to say anything clever or meaningful about it?

  5. An episode about Burns (Modern Burns) losing all their money (plot recycled for the thousandth time) could never be good.

  6. The funniest thing about this episode (only saw some of part one so I can’t really comment on the quality itself) is that it started late the night it aired. There was an NFL playoff game that day and it ended up running long combined with the post-game show. It’s just funny to me how the first two-part episode in 22 years and the first one-hour Simpsons special didn’t even start on time.

    But I will say that a parody of both Empire and The Great Gatsby is an interesting idea. It definitely suits a show like American Dad, and I think The Boondocks would have went after Empire mercilessly if it was still on, but it’s just too ambitious for The Simpsons in its current state.

  7. That screencap is the perfect summation of Zombie Simpsons. Homer screaming in pain for a stupid reason and everyone else looking bored.

  8. “Jay-G”? Psh. Subtle. Veeeery subtle.
    They don’t even try hard to come up with a name for their fictional celebrities.

  9. Oh, pooh. If I were to write an exciting two-part The Simpsons episode, like one about Sky Police, Spider-Pig, Fruit Bat Man, Bartman, and Pie Man stopping Hank Scorpio, it would probably start out as one part before naturally spilling into two parts without any (or minimal) pointless filler. Like that Press Your Luck episode where Michael Larson kept spinning and landed on many extra spin spaces. I know not to mess up Hank Scorpio’s character from You Only Move Twice.

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