622. Treehouse of Horror XXVIII

Original airdate: October 22, 2017

The premise:
“The Exor-Sis” is an Exorcist “parody.” “CoraLisa” is a Coraline “parody.” In “Mmm… Homer,” Homer becomes a cannibal when he discovers the most delicious flesh is his own.

The reaction: Segment one was pretty disposable. Everyone and their dog has done an Exorcist parody at this point, with the spinning head and projectile vomiting. I guess the funny part is supposed to be that it’s a possessed Maggie with Kevin Michael Richardson’s voice. I miss James Earl Jones. Then again, FOX has that Exorcist TV series, so maybe this is just corporate synergy. Segment two features some pretty excellent looking CG animation mimicking the stop motion look of the original film, which is nice to look at, but story-wise, there’s not much going on. It felt like the disappointing Tracey Ullman segment from a few Halloween shows ago, where each family member goes off to kill themselves/get buttons sewed on their eyes for no real reason one after another. Segment three opens with a disclaimer from Lisa to warn how disgusting the following story will be, which definitely perked my interest as to what this show feels it needs to forewarn. And yes, Homer repeatedly cutting off limbs and body fat until he’s a hobbled amputee was pretty nauseating. I can at least give this show credit for actually getting a visceral reaction out of me, and for being the first actually chilling element of a Halloween show in I don’t know how long. But tonally it didn’t feel like it struck the right balance; I’d rather they had gone even creepier with it instead of setting the montage of him eating himself to happy music, and the resolution of him going to therapy with Marge over it. The best Treehouse of Horrors balanced scary and funny effortlessly; the whole family having their skin ripped off and twisted inside-out was shocking, but seeing them immediately don hats and canes and sing A Chorus Line made for an epic finale. Homer’s carcass being fed to people the world over? I don’t know what to make of that ending. Is it funny or disturbing? Or both?

Three items of note:
– The opening is another CG segment with the Simpsons as candy bars in a bowl fearing being taken, until eventually they’re the only ones left in the bowl and are left on a top shelf to rot. Then they feast on the suicidal Easter bunny or something. I didn’t really get what they were doing. Was this meant to be a take on Sausage Party or something?
– The ending of the Coraline segment is kind of strange. Normal Homer strangles Button-Eye Bart, causing him to lose his head as shown above. Then Button-Eye Homer retaliates but ends up impaling himself. This throws Button-Eye Marge into a rage, who transforms into an evil spider similar to Other Mother from the film. But after that, we cut back to the normal world to see the two families are now living together, with Homer hanging with his two wives. Then Button-Eye Homer shows up acting as regular Homer’s errand boy. How did this come about? There’s clearly some narrative connective tissue missing.
– When the family returns home, Homer answers the door in his newly hobbled state, looking almost emaciated in his torso. When Bart asks him why he’s got oven mitts on, Homer says he wants to look more elegant after watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Being served the sitcom set-up, Bart delivers the punchline (“Elegant? With your waistline? I don’t think so.”) You can almost hear the laugh track. This type of hacktacular comedy writing isn’t anything new for this show now, but in this context, it feels even stranger considering Bart’s looking right at his now extremely slim father. It’s out-of-character and makes no sense in its context, but I guess the joke was just too great to resist.

One good line/moment: The CG animation on the Coraline story was fun to watch, the designs and the detail were pretty spectacular. Though my enjoyment took a slight hit at the start thanks to Lisa’s first line on entering this new world (“For a Halloween show middle segment, this is amazing!”) Pat yourselves harder on the back, will you, guys?

621. Whistler’s Father

Original airdate: October 15, 2017

The premise:
Homer thinks he’s struck fame when he discovers Maggie’s incredibly whistling talent, but fears she might turn into a child star diva. Meanwhile, Marge is enlisted to be Fat Tony’s interior decorator.

The reaction: I couldn’t really make heads or tails out of this one. Plot A involves Homer believing that his ticket to superstardom is being able to whistle well? At first he tries hiding Maggie in his backpack and miming with his lips to look like he’s actually whistling, but he’s exposed fairly quickly. Apparently this talent skips a generation; Abe was a world-class whistler back in the day, and now he and Homer believe Maggie can be a big success. It isn’t until halfway through the show we see that they want to enroll her in an America’s Got Talent Jr.-type show, but what do they win? What are the stakes? Then they manufacture at the last minute that Maggie might be turning conceited and Homer is worried about it. Meanwhile, Marge is approached by Fat Tony at random to be his interior decorator for the old post office he just purchased. She goes along with everything he says, no questions asked. She even addresses him by his first name; at this point, it feels like the mafia are basically family friends of the Simpsons too. She’s ultimately shocked to discover that the building is actually a swanky brothel, even though it has a built-in stripper pole and other such amenities. Seriously, how could she not have known this? Both plots are pretty dumb and meaningless, but even stranger is that for some reason, there’s a runner throughout where Homer and Marge are keeping their recent escapades secret from each other. Why is this? Marge had zero hesitation or reservations about doing a job for the mob, so it’s unclear why she wouldn’t tell Homer, and Homer was super psyched about Maggie’s talent, why wouldn’t he tell Marge? As usual, it all ends up being a bunch of nonsense.

Three items of note:
– I don’t know how many times these shows are ripped apart and pieced back together, but there are times where scenes feel like they don’t connect properly. We open in the middle of the night where Marge is fretting about having friends over the following night. She wakes Homer up and asks if he can watch Maggie, and he agrees. Then we cut to Homer still in his PJs hanging out with Maggie. Is this happening the same night? Is he prep-playing with her? But then we cut to Marge and her guests in the living room, so I guess it’s the following night. But then why is Homer in his PJs? Why couldn’t the first scene have taken place during the day? Again, it feels like this all was rewritten over and over and they just forgot about it. Also, Marge’s guests are Helen, Bernice and Luann, who waste no time in acting like smug bitches toward her, and continue throughout the whole show. Completely unprompted and meaningless.
– Through flashback, we see li’l Abe had a big shot on a huge radio show to display his whistling talents, where he tried off a complicated trip involving whistling in three part harmony through three lips. It’s pretty disturbing, he looks like a weird Futurama creature. Then he ends up blew out the ligaments in his lips, leading him to have to pay a guy to make out with his girlfriend for him (don’t ask.) But cutting back to the present where he urges Homer to foster Maggie’s talent, he then inexplicably does his whistling trick, but this time in four part harmony. Four creepy gross alien lips. But didn’t we just see that he fucked up his lips and couldn’t do the trick anymore? Wasn’t that the whole point of Abe’s only hope being Maggie? Who gives a shit, right?
– One orphaned scene involves Lisa discovering Maggie whistling in her crib, which leads her into an anxious spiral of her feeling insecure that Maggie is gifted and has a talent. It felt like her awful behavior in that “Smart and Smarter” episode, but at least that was kicked off by learning Maggie had a higher IQ. What the fuck does Lisa care if her infant sister can whistle well? Is she that pathetically insecure?

One good line/moment: Mrs. Prince nonchalantly picking up her wedgied son off a coatrack was a smirk-worthy background gag. Kind of a stretch, but whatever.

620. Springfield Splendor

Original airdate: October 8, 2017

The premise:
When assigned art therapy to help cope with her depression, Lisa, with the help of her mother’s artistic talents, creates the graphic novel “Sad Girl.” The comic becomes an instant hit, but a conflict arises when Marge feels Lisa isn’t giving her due credit for her contributions.

The reaction: Marge-Lisa episodes in recent years have always felt pretty sour to me. They’re two characters who don’t share many interests and sometimes don’t see eye to eye on things, but more than anything they have a deep love for each other. Despite this, the past few shows of this type has seen Marge either acting horribly or being incredibly petty and catty, with no real apology or sincere reconciliation by the episode’s end. This time, we see Lisa as the thoughtless one, as the show shoehorns in a contrived conflict halfway through. We open on our eightieth show about Lisa feeling miserable, and at the suggestion from a community college therapist, takes to drawing out her life through comic panels. Finding her daughter struggling artistically, Marge lends her abilities, and the two end up creating a visually and narratively stimulating representation of Lisa’s sad lot in life entitled “Sad Girl,” which sort of looks like a blend of “Ghost World” and Alison Bechdel’s work (Bechdel voices herself later in the show). In a “classic” case of Simpson-becomes-instant-success, the comic gets out and is a wildly popular hit with women everywhere. Lisa was initially mortified to find that her work was published without her knowledge, but when she sees young women and girls clamoring over “Sad Girl,” the notoriety goes to her head. Do we really find out why audiences are relating to Lisa’s story? Maybe she could have been the figurehead of disenfranchised youth? But this isn’t delved into; we see the likes of Lenny, Carl, Apu and Sideshow Mel reading the comic, and then instantly Marge and Lisa are at Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, where halfway through the show, our character conflict shifts into gear, where we see Marge is discouraged that people aren’t giving her as much credit as Lisa. During their panel, they hammer this home multiple times (the scene ends with a booming announcement, “Lisa wins! Marge fails!”) Following this, Lisa smugly patronizes Marge’s request to include a storyline about her, and when Marge calls her out on her raw attitude, Lisa fires her. Act three introduces Martin Short as an eccentric flamboyant who wants to turn “Sad Girl” into a musical, but only takes inspiration from Marge’s visuals, discarding the story almost completely. So with the shoe on the other foot, Lisa proceeds to pout and moan about be unacknowledged, still not caring about her mother’s feelings. In the end, Marge is the one who extends the olive branch and sabotages the show for Lisa’s sake, while Lisa gets away with a paltry apology at the very end (following Marge’s own apology, of course). Character conflicts nowadays feel so manufactured and meaningless, and they feel even worse when they’re so one-sided like this. It’s not great when in shows like this, “Pay Pal,” “The Marge-ian Chronicles” and so on where you come off not liking Lisa or Marge; they’re the easier characters to get behind.

Three items of note:
– Shockingly, they actually utilized Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko in a plot line, after making only a few background appearances multiple seasons after her debut. She discovers the “Sad Girl” loose pages on the steps of the community college, and decides she’ll publish them herself. For no particular reason, mind you. It’s not like she thinks they’re great or anything, the dialogue is literally, “A graphic novel! I’ll sell this at my husband’s store.” She just decides to organize, clean-up, and self-publish this book within the span of a week. And I guess Comic Book Guy, despite knowing Lisa, didn’t really give much of a shit. When confronted by Lisa and Marge, Kumiko offers no explanation, makes a joke about harikari, and pledges she’ll burn the books “on a pyre and disperse them to the seven winds.” In her first notable appearance since her introduction, she continues to be nothing but a shallow, walking stereotype.
– Midway through the show, we get a montage of Lisa and Marge working together set to a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation,” reworked as “Collaboration.” Interestingly, it’s performed by Kipp Lennon, who is most famous in Simpsons lore as the singing voice of Leon Kompowski/Michael Jackson in “Stark Raving Dad.” He also did the shitty 30th anniversary Big Bang Theory theme parody opening from last season as well (no fault of his own, of course), and I also saw him perform “Happy Birthday, Lisa” live at the Simpsons Take the Hollywood Bowl show. It’s pretty sweet that the show has kept a relationship with Lennon after all these years.
– The ending features an animated “Sad Girl” sequence of a lonely Lisa being picked up by a happy Marge, which lifts Lisa’s spirits. And then a dance number. It reminded me of the ending of “Moaning Lisa,” which featured a similar dilemma. Marge initially imparts Lisa with the same awful advice her mother gave her, to bottle up her emotions completely, go along with what the other kids say, and “happiness will follow.” But, seeing firsthand how quickly Lisa is taken advantage of and undermined by her teachers and peers, Marge grabs her and takes it all back; feel whatever you have to feel, and no matter what, she will support her. And that’s all Lisa needed to hear. It’s a really emotionally complicated scene, and it feels like such a satisfying and earned ending. With this end tag, Lisa has a thought bubble, “I’m lonely.” Then Marge pulls up, and it’s changed to “I’m not lonely anymore.” I get this is a simplified end tag played after the story is over, but the resolution of this show, and most episodes, is basically just like this. Plots start and stop with characters just announcing as simply and directly as possible what they’re feeling, with no real regard or care as to why. Of all of these junky sad Lisa episodes, “Moaning Lisa” is still the gold standard they all must stand before.

One good line/moment: I thought the artwork of “Sad Girl” was well done, especially the sequences where the drawings become animated. There’s also some pretty good animation with Martin Short’s character. As much as I love Film Roman, I feel like there’s been a noticeable shift in the visuals, with a couple episodes from last season and just these first two episodes of this season sporting some bits of character animation and other sequences that feel like a little work was put into them. I guess the show is just being produced by FOX Animation now. I don’t know why Film Roman got the boot; was it a financial concern like (allegedly) Alf Clausen’s firing, or something else? But either way, it’s not like it’s a humungous step forward visually, and ultimately none of that means squat if the scripts are just the same old slop.

Sorry this is so late, I’ve gotten wrapped up a bit in a new job. I’ll try and post new reviews sometime within the week a new episode airs. I’ll see if I can get to “Whistler’s Father” sometime in the next few days.

619. The Serfsons

Original airdate: October 1, 2017

The premise:
In a medieval fantasy world, Marge must face her mother’s impending death. Lisa conjures up the cash needed for a healing amulet, but her use of magic gets her imprisoned by the authoritarians of the land.

The reaction: There’s a reason that these fantasy setting episodes are reserved for three-parters; gimmicks like these tend to grow thin after a couple minutes, and then you’re left with just a regular story that just has different backgrounds and character designs. Even with Game of Thrones wrapping its seventh season, and the show already having recreated its opening title sequence at least twice over the last few years, amongst other references, I guess the show hasn’t glommed onto this pop culture staple enough, so let’s do a whole GoT/Lord of the Rings/medieval fantasy hodgepodge episode, make it the premiere, and soak up some mild press because of it. I don’t watch or know much about Thrones, but to me, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of attempted referencing done here. In fact, most of the story up until the last third feels like it could have been done as a normal episode, and it would have been just as boring. Marge’s mother is turning into a White Walker… err, Ice Walker, and there’s not much the Simp… Serfsons can do about it. There’s a magical amulet that will cure her, but it’s way out of their price range. Nine minutes into the episode, Lisa reveals she has magic powers and turns a nugget of lead into gold, and laments she must keep her powers a secret lest she be imprisoned and exploited by the royal family. Prior to this, we hadn’t seen anyone using magic, or really even seen anything magical, outside of some weird goblins and creatures. As always with this show, it’s tell, not show. There are two “stories” going on, Marge having to deal with her mother wanting to die, and the peasants rising up against the kingdom, led by Homer in the final act. The players storm the gates in an assault that felt like the end of the Futurama movie “Bender’s Game” but worse, and I didn’t care for “Bender’s Game” all that much. In the end, with her daughter’s blessing, Jacqueline Bouvier takes off the amulet, goes full-on White Walker and takes down the dragon and herself. I don’t get why she has such a big role in this. Does this parallel Thrones at all? Whatever. It’s a little weird how much of a failure this one was (well, not really); gimmick episodes like “The Man Who Came To Be Dinner,” and to a lesser extent “Brick Like Me,” removing the characters from their normal setting at least gave way to different kinds of jokes and situations. Despite its fantasy location, this episode just felt very… normal. And normal for this series now is “absolute trash.”

Three items of note:
– Unable to afford the amulet, Homer drowns his sorrows at Moe’s with the regular Joes there. Later, he works overtime at the plant by pushing a wooden power generator whilst being whipped, which we’ve already seen in the “real” world in “Rosebud.” Outside of minor accoutrements like Willie being a Warcraft orc slavedriver and Burns sprouting tiny magic wings (??), the story and the characters feel like it should just be taking place in the real world. The old Treehouse of Horrors, and even the earlier three-story episodes like “Bible Stories” felt like they were different worlds through their tone and framing. This feels like really bad fan fiction or something.
– It’s a bit of a struggle for Julie Kavner to do a consistent Marge nowadays, let alone her much hoarser mother. Jacqueline sounds like Jackie Earl Haley’s villain character from The Tick in this episode (slightly obscure reference, but it’s fresh in my head since I just watched it. There’s a plug, go watch The Tick, it’s on Amazon Prime, it’s great).
– The high elder magicians or whoever thwart Homer from intervening with them taking Lisa by casting a spell on him, making his toenails rapidly grow and wrap themselves around, encasing him in a tangled toenail ball. Gross. This reminded me of an episode of the old Nickelodeon cartoon The Angry Beavers where the titular beavers try to look cool by letting their teeth grow out. The ending involves things getting out of hand when their teeth get exaggeratingly long, with brother Norbert being trapped in a giant toothy sphere. Anyone remember this? Ahh, nostalgia.