627. Gone Boy

Original airdate: December 10, 2017

The premise:
Bart gets trapped in a Cold War-era bunker in the woods, and is declared dead after a brief search. Despite knowing the truth, Milhouse uses this to his advantage to get close to Lisa, and meanwhile, Sideshow Bob seeks to find the boy to kill him himself.

The reaction: “Twelfth time’s the charm!” Bob declares when he confronts his adolescent nemesis. As mentioned on many an occasion, all Bob episodes past “Brother From Another Series” feel so superfluous and meaningless. As much as I love “Cape Feare,” it ended up becoming a template for future Bob shows, where rather than have some kind of grand scheme or master plan tied to his pompous, upper class cultural fancies, he’s just an insane murderer who’s out for the blood of a ten-year-old. There’s no creativity, no intent to explore any other facets of Bob’s character; they even gave him a wife and child and they’ve been absent for the last couple installments. It’s just the same song and dance over and over, and honestly, do even diehard fans even give a fuck anymore? Bob is part of a prison gang doing community service when they are all forced to participate in the manhunt to find Bart. Meanwhile, his therapist is trying to get Bob to get past his revenge fantasies and take back control of his life. This maybe would hold more weight if it was better written, and if Bob hadn’t already reformed at least two times already. And pretended to reform more times than that. With the forced assistance of Milhouse, Bob tracks Bart down, tying both boys to an old ICBM (“I Commit Bart’s Murder!” “That’s your justification for killing two kids?”) This gives Bob pause. It’s almost like the episode is commenting how stupid this all is, and ultimately a call with his therapist gets Bob to release them and give up his murderous ways. At least until next time. The tag features an older Bob living in isolation in a lighthouse, writing “DIE BART DIE” in the sand almost like a calming mantra. Or something. If they wanted to write a “final” Bob show that got super meta about how deranged and unstable Bob is for wanting to pick a ten-year-old’s bones clean, I’m all for that, but this watered down fuzzy version of it is just a waste of time. They’ll bring him back. He always comes back, and even less effective each and every time. Sprinkling in fan service like the rake and him singing Gilbert & Sullivan doesn’t help comparisons much.

Three items of note:
– There’s another Wilhelm scream when a bunch of characters trip over a wire grid. Like just a guy falling down prompted a Wilhelm scream, that’s the third one this season. Is this some kind of inside joke between the post department or something?
– In yet another instance of characters reacting less like human beings and more like joke machines, returning from the woods to the rest of the family without Bart, Homer has an internal monologue (because of course he does) on how best to explain that their son is missing (“Okay, this is the hardest news in the world for a mother to hear. Just ease her into it.”) So he says, “You know that sewing room you wanted, but we could never figure out where?” Brilliant. It’s also a repeat of a joke from “Barting Over,” I believe (boy, I wish I didn’t know that completely useless knowledge.) The family receives a subpoena that Bart wants to become emancipated, and what’s Marge’s first reaction? “I always wanted a sewing room, but not like this!” This show was so brilliant because characters would always react honestly. They’d say funny lines, sure, but they made sense in the emotional context of the scene. In these two scenes, Bart is either threatening to leave the house, or missing/possibly dead, and his parents’ first responses involve a sewing room.
– Milhouse gets a scumbaggy moment when he arrives at the Simpson house to tell them where Bart is. Meanwhile, Kent Brockman just announced on TV that they’re giving up the search for no real reason, presuming Bart to be dead. I guess the family just believes it to be true immediately, as Lisa opens the door in tears, embracing Milhouse. He hesitates to tell her the news, and in case we couldn’t figure it out, we have his inner monologue explain (“I came to tell her he’s alive, but this feels almost as good as hugging Harry Horse!”) (I also don’t know if I get the joke. Is Harry Horse just a stuffed animal? I guess that’s it) So Milhouse exploits Bart’s “death” for some sympathy hugs from his sister. Maybe if they had Bart act like a dick to him like he always does, this would have been more acceptable, but he wasn’t. It felt particularly slimy for Milhouse.

One good line/moment: Out in the woods, Homer gives Santa’s Little Helper an item of Bart’s clothing to sniff, hoping he’ll pick up the scent. The dog does alright, sprinting off and leading them to… Bart’s dresser drawer.

626. Mr. Lisa’s Opus

Original airdate: December 3, 2017

The premise:
As an eighteen-year-old Lisa writes her college essay to Harvard, we flash back to moments in her past, where she was at times unacknowledged by her family, and later saved her parents’ marriage.

The reaction: Seems a decent amount of people actually kind of liked “Barthood,” so just as they churned out another crap future show after “Holidays of Future Passed,” now we get a spiritual sequel, only this time focusing on Lisa. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know how much the writers really care about audience feedback at this point. If I could give “Barthood” a little credit, at least I understood the point of it, whereas this second outing feels even more aimless. We jump about in time as Lisa is writing her essay, first back to her seventh birthday, being devastated that no one remembered, then flashing forward to fourteen when she intervenes in her parents’ crumbling relationship. We get a really uncomfortable sequence of Homer angrily leaving the table to go to Moe’s and Marge crying alone in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still hurtful to see, but there’s no real regard to do anything with this dramatic beat or treat it super seriously. Lisa deduces her father needs to make a permanent change, proposing he give up drinking. AA buddy Ned Flanders talks him through the twelve-step program, and then he’s cured! It was as easy as that, huh? There’s no sort of epilogue showing how he kept his promise, no Marge calling bullshit on something she’s surely heard a hundred times before, a huge life decision done just like that. But this is Lisa’s story, and ultimately, what have we learned? The first part goes over how she was unacknowledged for her seventh birthday, so each year after the family overcompensates. How about a future where the family does this all year round, afraid of making Lisa upset again, so teen Lisa gets frequently annoyed at her clingy parents doting over her? Something new, something we haven’t seen before? No? Unlike “Barthood,” which felt like it was at least trying a little bit, this feels like a half-assed future episode, complete with our obligatory future gags, which once again feel like rejected scraps from Futurama and are completely ridiculous (in just six years into the future, King Toot’s has a time machine and Moe has robotic spider legs). Al Jean penned this one, having frequently citing Lisa as his favorite character, but it’s pretty clear after over fifteen years of stagnant storytelling, he’s got no life left in him to communicate anything new.

Three items of note:
– The writers try to shoot for nostalgia points with the random reappearance of Leon Kompowski (still voiced by Kipp Lennon) as he and Bart add new lyrics to their song for Lisa’s fourteenth birthday. Never mind that in our current floating time line, Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly Lisa’s entire life, but that doesn’t really matter. The question I ask again and again about moments like this, who are they appealing to? What longtime fan is going to lose their shit at the out-of-nowhere cameo appearance by a character from over twenty seasons ago? And they don’t even do anything new with him, the song sounds exactly the same. Speaking of, the tag features a new version of “Those Were the Days,” a song the show parodied twenty years ago in “Lisa’s Sax,” which itself was parodying “All in the Family” twenty years before it. Ugh. But now Homer and Marge are waxing nostalgic about their youth growing up in… the 90s (“And we have real heroes then/Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn/Mister, we could use a man like Richard Simmons again!”) I guess this is for all those “That ’90s Show” enthusiasts out there. Ever get the feeling that sometimes the writers really hate the hardcore fans?
– A Harvard security guard yells at Homer to move his car with a “hilarious” Boston accent, which Homer can’t interpret so he has him slowly repeat himself. Didn’t this show blow through all of its Boston jokes already after that show last season? I guess not.
– The show ends with Lisa feeling discouraged by her overachieving college roommate. She’s lifted up with some encouraging words for Bart, and then ends up cheering up her other roommate, who she walks in the room on crying. These were honestly two pretty effective scenes, actually kind of genuinely sweet. For as dull and meaningless as the rest of the show was, I got a glimpse of an ending that felt like it should have been tagged onto another show. But for the entire scene of Lisa and Other Girl, I was just waiting for the punchline that she was going to be a lesbian. I knew they were going to do it, and at the very, very end, just when I thought we were in the clear, they just couldn’t help themselves. Lisa’s inner monologue cries, “I have a friend!” Then Other Girl holds her hand and winks at her (“Ohhh… maybe more than a friend!”) Cue laugh track. It just feels so incredibly lazy. A sexuality bait-and-switch can work as a punchline, just look at the reveal at the end of ParaNorman. But that joke worked because there were multiple reasons why it was funny, none of which explicitly having to do with the fact the guy was gay. Here, the entire gag is “she’s a lesbian!” And yeah, how great of them to callback the quick gag in “Future Passed” where we see Lisa in succeeding Christmases from college bring home a guy, a girl, then two girls. At least that was framed as an “experimenting in college” quick joke, not a capper at the end of the emotional climax where the sexuality is the punchline.

One good line/moment: Lisa gets her Harvard acceptance from a drone waving the college flag. Upon acceptance, the other reject college drones above go into a laser fight to the death.