625. Singin’ In The Lane

Original airdate: November 19, 2017

The premise:
The Pin Pals reunite… sort of, with Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, and new coach Moe. The team rises through the ranks to the state finals, where they face off against some pompous hedge fund assholes.

The reaction: “Team Homer” is our latest classic rebooted for the purposes of nostalgia fumes. Remember that thing you loved from over twenty years ago (holy crap, twenty-two years to be precise)? Here it is again! Except with only half the Pin Pals, and now it’s a sad Moe story we’ve seen a hundred times already. Mr. Burns gives Homer four tickets to a basketball game (don’t bother asking why), so he invites Lenny, Carl and Barney, leaving Moe crestfallen. To make it up to him, Homer suggests they reform the Pin Pals. Moe alludes that Apu’s octuplets kept him from continuing to play, and Otto is completely ignored. So now the new Pin Pals are Homer, Lenny, Carl and Barney, leaving Moe as their “coach” due to his fucked up wrists. They quickly make the state finals, which are held in a glitzy high-rise alley, and their opponents are a gaggle of entitled Wall Street douchebags. These characters, or specifically their conniving leader, are nonsensical. I haven’t a clue what these characters are supposed to be parodying or making a commentary on; they’re rich and snobby, I get that, but then their leader is constantly throwing cheeseburgers at people for some reason, and revels in being able to make Moe cry over his pathetic life. So they’re juvenile bullies, like the popular kids on the schoolyard? How basic could this be? King Douche makes a bet with Moe, and if Moe loses, he has to give up his bar and his “good name” (couldn’t be worth much) which Moe dreads leading up to the very end. It’s up to Homer to make a final strike to win, but then Moe has a fantasy sequence about leaving his bar and going to France and living a great life… and then he wants Homer to lose so he can have the fresh start from his dreams. But the Pin Pals win, but Moe doesn’t give a shit, he’s back to being miserable and thinking he has no friends… despite having just won the championship game with his friends. Then cut to Moe going back to the bar and being surprised by the gang (“You guys are my friends!” “That’s right!” “Yeah, we sure are!” That’s actual dialogue.) Then they leave Moe to go to another basketball game, which I guess is supposed to be a joke, but this is like double whiplash of motivation in under a minute of screen time. But really, none of it matters. How many times are we going to do this sad pathetic Moe song and dance? It never amounts to anything, and it’s fucking boring and meaningless, and now, they’ve dug up the corpse of a beloved classic for “Sad Moe is Sad Part 87.” Good use of resources, guys.

Three items of note:
– We get a brand new opening, “The Shrimpsons,” with all the characters as fish! That’s… something, I guess. But really, what the fuck is this? It’s just the opening titles beat for beat, except everyone’s a sea creature. Fish Maggie is put in the same grocery basket and shakes her little fin at Fish Gerald, Fish Lisa plays a coral saxophone, Fish Wiggum shakes his little baton, Fish Marge and Maggie beep their starfish horns? There’s a few isolated cute elements, like Apu as an octopus clinging its children close, but no thought or consideration was put into elevating a piece like this to any kind of point. What you see is what you get. As the YouTube description helpfully puts it, “They are just like THE SIMPSONS, but they’re fish!” Does this count as a special treat for the fans? It’s a new opening title that had to be planned out, storyboarded and animated, and all that effort for what? This is actually depressing me a little more than I thought on retrospect, like this is what the show thinks is a highlight. What even is this show anymore? It’s either redoing the same stories and gags over and over again, or just throwing random shit at the wall and seeing what gets a reaction. Like they just spitballed different nouns and landed on making everyone fish. I fucking hate it.
– The newly rechristened Pin Pals begin their league play, as we get a quick breeze through rehashed “Team Homer” jokes. Funny team names are back, except much less amusing. We see “Selma’s Exes” featuring Sideshow Bob, Disco Stu and what looks like “Fit” Tony (despite Fat Tony appearing later on his own mafia team), but this is basically just like “The Homewreckers,” except with the subtlety removed. We also get the reappearance of the Holy Rollers (with the Bing Crosby Parson replacing our dearly departed Maude), but instead of them removing the hoods from their robes as heavenly light basks upon their blessed faces, Ned Flanders high fives a floating Jesus that apparently everyone can see after he gets a strike. Ugh.
– Two episodes in a row, the show has used the Wilhelm scream. There’s a side “story” where Lisa convinces the abused underlings to dig up dirt on the hedge fund people. Then later they show back up, walking in to “Little Green Bag” in slow-mo a la Reservoir Dogs, following a light-up sign titling it “The Hateful 8-Year-Old, Directed by Quentin Tarantino.” It’s fucking terrible. Over a decade ago, they did the same bit with Lisa walking with her adopted animals, and it sucked back then too. Lisa reveals each team member’s Achilles heel, and one of them does the Wilhelm scream. I know it’s a staple for movies and TV shows to sneak it in, but normally the key word is “sneak,” to put it in the background or as part of a large action sequence or something. Last episode it was done as someone jumped out of the way of the runaway monorail, but in both instances, it felt like the purpose was, “It’s the Wilhelm scream! Us using it counts as a joke, right?” No. No it doesn’t.

One good line/moment: Yeah, not a damn thing. Definitely the worst episode so far.

624. The Old Blue Mayor She Ain’t What She Used to Be

Original airdate: November 12, 2017

The premise: 
Marge becomes mayor of Springfield, but is disheartened to find her approval ratings are directly linked to how much she publicly mocks her oafish husband.

The reaction: Character motivation is important, it helps us understand why people are doing things. These days, this usually boils down to one fleeting mention, or some minimal conversation that turns into the crutch for an entire episode. Here, Marge runs for public office after being subject to sexist comments from Mayor Quimby at a Town Hall meeting. It felt a lot like the open-faced, on-the-nose sexism Lisa has been subject to in a couple shows, but I can stomach it more here coming from an infamous womanizer. But the episode itself isn’t about women’s rights, or Marge wanting to prove herself and win on her own merit. I’m honestly not sure what is driving her or what she wants to do. During a debate, she catches a glimpse of the tire fire glowing in the distance, and talks about how for her whole life, she’s wanted to get rid of that toxic eyesore, which the crowd enthusiastically agrees with (why, I’m not sure). Then, after she’s sworn in, she makes two attempts to close it and fails, with Kent Brockman reporting on her failings each time. It’s like she ran on a platform of one issue, because that’s what she did. Marge is the mayor of Springfield, what does she want to do with that power? Crack down on teen hooliganism? Pour money into public schools? Clean up the streets, literally? Surely there’s plenty of things you can do that are in line with her character. But instead, we have this bizarre occurrence where a focus group laughs uproariously at Homer’s dumb antics in the Simpson kitchen as Marge tries to give her address. So now, Marge’s entire political platform is based upon giving cutting jabs about her husband’s weight and stupidity, to the crowd’s unwavering applause. So what’s the commentary here? Crowd-pleasing theatrics overshadowing actual politics? I honestly haven’t a clue. In the end, Marge paying Homer a compliment results in the entire crowd leaving and grumbling, and I guess that’s the end of her run, where the status quo is covered in the tag. This episode feels like it’s a result of the writers pulling nouns out of a hat. “Marge” becomes “the mayor”! We haven’t done that yet, have we? Perfect! I want a script in twenty minutes! Actually, make that fifteen.

Three items of note:
– The episode opens with the latest town wide snafu caused by Mayor Quimby. A new skyline park is opened on the same infrastructure of the long defunct monorail track, but upon turning on the power, one of the old decrepit monorails returns to life and started careening down the restored track. Don’t quite see how this makes sense, but whatever. We get a brief reappearance of Sebastian Cobb, which is promptly run over by the monorail, which ends up careening off the tracks and landing on and demolishing a statue of Leonard Nimoy. I’m honestly surprised that they did that to a dearly deceased guest star. It might have been the best thing in the whole show, a rare showing of actual balls.
– Marge goes on the campaign trail (no mention of this actually being election season, but whatever. I guess anyone can run for mayor at any time in this town) and over a montage of her talking to voters, we get a song to the tune of “Oh Susanna,” which for some reason sounds like it’s being performed in an echo chamber. Not quite sure what that’s about. We also have a few lyrics sung by Marge herself, and boy oh boy, is her voice strained. Julie Kavner is pushing 70, I just feel bad for these moments where you can really hear her voice giving out. Our favorite family is getting older and older…
– Disheartened in having to mercilessly mock Homer for poll points, Marge visits Quimby at his estate to ask him if it’s possible to balance a personal and political life. In retirement, Quimby admits he’s now faithful to his wife for the first time in decades, which doesn’t exactly help Marge’s worries. So what is the point here? Power absolutely corrupts? Once removed from office, creeps and predators will just turn back to normal? As usual, there is no point to something like this, it’s just a plot necessity to get Quimby back in and push Marge to her inevitable, obvious decision.

One good line/moment: I’m sure there was something, but nothing I can immediately recall. This was definitely the most boring one so far. I can at least say this season isn’t as aggressively terrible as last season, but honestly, it’s all splitting hairs at this point. It doesn’t help that last season started with two of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen.

623. Grampy Can You Hear Me

Original airdate: November 5, 2017

The premise: 
Abe gets a hearing aid and is shocked to discover what his family says about him under their breaths. Meanwhile, Skinner evicts himself from his mother’s house after finding out a terrible secret.

The reaction: This show had a very strange flow. We start on the “main” plot, but a few minutes in, we introduce a B-plot, which leads directly into a C-plot, which then ends up getting the most screen time, with sprinklings of the other two stories mixed in. And this show was extremely short; minus the extreme padding at the beginning and end, it’s barely seventeen minutes long. Let’s get the less interesting stories out of the way. Abe walks into the Simpson kitchen to show off his new hearing aid, but before he can announce the gift, we conveniently have the Simpsons narrate to themselves all the damning information Abe needs to get pissed (“Thank God he can’t hear us!”) Then he disappears. Then he comes back. We’ve seen episodes with Abe feeling disrespected by young’ns, but those require actual thought and development, not being crammed up against two other stories and forgotten about. Meanwhile, Lisa urges Bart to help her break into the school to change a typo on her paper, which she frets and worries about getting found out after she changes it. It’s paranoid academic Lisa which, again, we’ve seen much, much better and more realistically in the past. The most screen time goes to Skinner, who leaves Agnes’ house when he finds out she hid his Ohio State acceptance letter from him when he was 18. I’d mention how this contradicts “The Principal and the Pauper,” but who gives a flying fuck at this point. He wanted to join their marching band, so he goes to Ohio State to tell them about this for really no reason, then storms around angry. Finally, he goes and confronts Agnes about it, and she tearfully explains how she didn’t want him to leave her all alone. She also tells him she hates marching bands. Skinner accepts her apology, because he has to, because status quo. If these stories are going to be so threadbare and meaningless, could they at least try a little harder with these reconciliations? Not even mentioning how out-of-character this is for Agnes. I remember that curling episodes years ago featured a similar treacly moment between these two. If we’re going to get vicious bitch Agnes to this emotional level, there needs to be some build-up. But that’s a tall order for this show at this point.

Three items of note:
– All the tricks in the book were made to bring this one to length; it’s almost like a modern version of “The Front,” in more ways than one. We get our long opening titles (which features Maggie holding up a bottle of Szechuan sauce to the camera. Love us, Rick & Morty! LOVE US!), as well as a really long couch gag that starts off as the family coming to Ellis Island at the turn of the century, then turns into a timeline going to the 50s, then going into space? It’s stupid. When the show is over, we get our hundredth instance of the show acknowledging how much tags suck with Homer flipping through his script page and noticing there’s more following the natural end of the story. This show has had four acts for almost a decade now, you’d think at some point they would actually utilize it in some satisfactory fashion, instead of just be meta and make fun of it over and over. I still don’t get why they even have to do it. But whatever, onto the most egregious time killer. Following the executive producer credits, we get a little short! It’s “Everyone Knows Hans Moleman”! Does this seem familiar? The theme is an intentional soundalike of “Everyone Loves Ned Flanders,” so it’s clear they’re trying to reference themselves. Do I need to tell you it’s terrible? Cashier Shuana (shudder) tries to scan Moleman’s arm and it comes up as “0.00.” Is the joke that he’s worthless or disregarded? Or both? Oh, who cares.
– I normally steer clear of comparing specific jokes to classic episodes, but it’s difficult when the set-ups are so clearly similar. Lisa has a nightmare that she’s about to win the presidency, but news of her minor transgressions from second grade prove to be her undoing. It’s identical to a bit from “Lisa on Ice,” but done so, so much poorer. The dream in “Ice” is dynamic, we see Lisa being sworn in when a roving reporter comes in, dramatically announcing Lisa’s failing grade in gym class. Lisa is arrested and sent to Monster Island, which of course, is only a peninsula. It actually feels like a kid-like dream, where it’s Lisa’s worst fears, but then you get this ridiculous silly bit at the end, which has its own jokes in and of itself. In this episode, it’s just a guy standing in a newsroom who gets told via headset about Lisa cheating, who then calls it for her opponent, Kenny Hitler. And that’s it. It’s so less creative and boring.
– There’s a “joke” on Miss Hoover’s chalkboard that I can’t quite figure out: Five states whose capitals start with the same letter as the state: Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Oklahoma, This State. If Wikipedia is to be believed, those are the only four states that meet that criteria, so I guess this is the writers punking the fans, sending them on a wild goose chase. But does anyone still care about the “truth” of where Springfield is? There’s no answer, that’s the point. Again, where Springfield is was a great running gag, but like all running gags, the well starts to run a little dry when you’re going for almost thirty years. So I guess the joke is wasting die hard fans’ time. Are they supposed to, once they realize there is no fifth state, laugh upon realizing they’ve been had? Where is the joke aspect here?

One good line/moment: There’s a cute bit involving Skinner desperately wanting to tell his tale of woe, but Bart and Lisa don’t care in the slightest (“Are you asking?” “I was stretching.” “Then why’d you only stretch one arm?” “It was the only arm that needed stretching.”)