636. Forgive And Regret

Original airdate: April 29, 2018

The premise:
On his deathbed, Abe confesses a terrible secret to Homer about their past, and must live with his son’s heated reaction to the news during his recovery.

The reaction: Homer’s upbringing is really quite tragic, as we know from “Mother Simpson.” His mother stood up for what she believed in, and her reward for her unwavering compassion even towards Mr. Burns, her own adversary, makes her a wanted woman and forces her to leave her son for his own protection. Once loved and encouraged by his mother, Homer is now left with his cold and stubborn father, who spends the rest of his adolescence tearing down his son’s self-esteem piece by piece. In present day, Homer can easily come off badly for neglecting and often ignoring his senile, elderly father, but this family history creates a new shade to this relationship, a deep seeded animosity Homer feels towards Abe for never believing in him, always putting him down, and perhaps also blaming him for his mother leaving (especially given Abe’s flimsy lie to young Homer that his mother died when they were at the movies). This is a lot of rich material to delve into, which makes this episode frustrating since it attempts to scratch the surface of it, and ultimately ends on such a meaningless, who-gives-a-shit note. Believing he’s finally on his way out the door, Abe whispers his biggest regret to Homer, but after he recovers, he has to deal with him being furious with him. Finally, halfway through, we find out what happened: when Mona left him, Abe chucked everything she left behind off a cliff, including a box of recipe cards she wrote over many years of baking with her son, a treasured memory for li’l Homer (Lisa irritating exposits, “If this man had had those notes, his life would have been different! He would have had confidence! He would have had his mother with him!”) Any sort of heated discourse between Homer and Abe about this event, or hearing more about their feelings are paved over in exchange for extended sequences of the Simpson family being angry and relishing over their hate boners. Everything falls apart with the ending, featuring Abe attempting to scale the cliff to retrieve the recipes; rather than featuring a father and son heart-to-heart with Abe apologizing to his son for what he did and everything he put him through as a kid and them making peace with Mona’s passing, Homer finds the recipe card box on a ledge near the bottom of the cliff, but it’s empty. Then at a diner at the base of the cliff, it’s revealed that the owner had the recipe cards showered down on her all those years ago, and she returns them to Homer (literally tied up in a bow, as the show gleefully pounds on the fourth wall.) I almost feel foolish for having hope watching this show, but when they tapped directly into such a rich emotional vein from the show’s past, I thought maybe it would actually go somewhere, but the writing nowadays just isn’t strong enough to say anything new or of any substance. Everything in the flashback is so sappily on-the-nose (young Homer tearfully saying “Love you” to his mom as he eats, followed by Mona directly explaining the emotional meaning behind the cards) and they completely sidestep any grievances Homer may have with Abe by putting all vitriol in his mother’s mouth (we end on Homer looking at one of Mona’s notes, “I love you, because your father’s a mean S.O.B.”) I’m not surprised that they managed to bungle an episode like this, but I am a bit disappointed given the little moments of promise that were actually there in the writing.

Three items of note:
– In case you missed the minor slew of articles from entertainment journalists desperately mustering up the energy to care about this lumbering fossil of a series, this is the landmark episode that bumps The Simpsons in front of Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted primetime show by number of episodes. Thankfully, the self-congratulation is very short, a ten-second opening featuring Maggie gunning down who I presume is the lead sheriff from the Western series. But here we are, the show’s broken its final notable record, and still shows no sign of ending any time soon. A year or so ago, I thought that maybe there was a chance that this latest contract going up to season 30 would be its last. They’d have broken the Gunsmoke record, 30 is a nice round number, maybe this will be the time to finally, at long last, close the curtains. Then there was some article where the head of FOX television saying she’d love for the show going as long as the crew wanted. And now with the Disney deal, the chance of the show ending at season 30 is pretty much nil. I’m sure Disney’s gonna want to keep this cash cow alive, and even if they wanted to cancel it, it wouldn’t be very good press for them to do it immediately after acquiring it. But how much longer could it possibly go? I still hold onto the morbid belief that the only definite show killer would be the death of one of the six core voice actors; whenever that might be, I feel like Al Jean and company wouldn’t feel right about recasting and quietly wrap things up.
– Abe being moments from death is treated fairly seriously. His skin a sickly shade of pale yellow, he regales this horrible secret to Homer, which now in retrospect makes his immediate forgiveness to his dying father hold more weight. We then cut to him staring blankly at the candy machine, desperately awaiting Dr. Hibbert to come in with an update. As all this played out, I started considering what an episode where Abe actually dies would be like. And really, why the fuck not kill him off? I’d be interested in seeing how they’d handle it. It’s just amazing to me that a show pushing thirty years on the air is so uninterested in any kind of change whatsoever (barring the death of a voice actress, i.e.: Marcia Wallace.) The last big “permanent” change I can think of is Selma’s adopted daughter, and in recent major Selma appearances, like her marriage to Fat Tony and her giving up smoking, I don’t even think she appeared.
– Glenn Close returns for the ninth time to play Mona Simpson again, six of those appearances being posthumous. In the flashback, we see Homer’s lively and vibrant mother hoarsely and timidly voiced by a 71-year-old Close. In the same vein, Dan Castellaneta’s young Homer voice certainly sounds a lot deeper than it did in “Mother Simpson,” especially during his song. I don’t mean to shame these great actors for getting older, but it just speaks to how stagnant this show is; they want to keep going over the same twenty-year-old material again and again, not realizing that they just can’t. Because of time.

One good line/moment: There were a few bits in the first half that made me chuckle, like the two dividers in Homer’s car and Marge’s congratulatory balloons (“Speaking Terms” and “You’re Reconciled!”)

635. Lisa Gets The Blues

Original airdate: April 22, 2018

The premise:
After some harsh words from Mr. Largo, Lisa finds herself discouraged from pursuing her musical talents. Perhaps an unintentional impromptu trip to New Orleans will reinvigorate her passion for jazz?

The reaction: Well, this is the first episode in a good long while I actually didn’t dislike. The premise was simple and thin enough, and almost the entire show was padding, but there was nothing really that actively pissed me off, and that’s a big leg-up at this point in the series. Our story kicks off when Lisa is discouraged by Mr. Largo and Principal Skinner, who inform her of the harsh reality that making it big as an artist and standing out among the crowd is a nigh impossible task; for every star that made it big, there’s thousands behind them who just couldn’t swing it. It’s a decent harsh reality to thrust upon this little girl, but it feels so needlessly vindictive on Skinner’s part to actively try and crush the hopes and dreams of his best student out of the blue. But this is enough to get Lisa to completely give up on music, finding herself physically unable to play anymore due to her own self-doubt and insecurities. There’s a section of the first act where Marge tries to be as supportive as she can in encouraging her daughter to keep playing, and it’s actually pretty sweet. She announces they’re all going to visit one of her elderly relatives (specifically mentioning they love music, urging Lisa further), but commotion on their plane flight leads the Simpsons to make a detour to New Orleans. Pretty serendipitous of course for Lisa to get her jazz groove back. Marge tries to help Lisa again, but oddly quickly pawns her off on Homer (“You’re good at cheering her up. I’ll take Bart.”) There goes that mother-daughter story, I guess. Oh yeah, there’s also a B-plot where Bart gets bullied at the beginning, then buys some voodoo dolls, but it doesn’t really matter at all. But surprisingly, Homer actually gives half of a shit, taking Lisa to a statue of Louis Armstrong, then later to a jazz club. Lisa’s mojo is rekindled thanks to Bleeding Gums Murphy’s nephew, who tells her how his uncle thought he was the most promising young musician he’d ever heard (“Kind of an insult to me, but he was pretty passive-aggressive.”) The resolution is a little rushed, but it felt genuine enough; plus we also saw the nephew character earlier in the episode on the street, his head turning upon seeing Lisa, so I appreciated that foreshadowing there (I also liked Kevin Michael Richardson’s Ron Taylor-inspired voice for the character.) This episode felt really refreshing for some reason, it wasn’t anything exemplary, but it at least felt like there was a hint of soul to it. Maybe that’s due to it being co-written by veteran director David Silverman. He’s been with the show since the very start, perhaps the heart of the series could be regained by the man who’s been drawing them since the beginning? I’m certainly not hopeful on the series in general, but I’d be interested to see another Silverman penned show.

Three items of note:
– We open with a “30 Years Ago” card, followed by a clip from the Tracey Ullman short “The Aquarium,” which actually aired in February 1988, but it’s one of the more famous ones, so I get why they’d pick it. But what’s this about? Last year they did the same opening but for the actual 30th anniversary of the characters with “Good Night.” I guess they’re in full self-congratulation mode leading up to finally surpassing Gunsmoke so they figured why not honor their 30th two years in a row? Then we get the opening clouds with the familiar chorus… except the incoming titles reads “The Flintstones.” Pause, rewind. Now it’s “The Stimpstones.” Rewind again. Now it’s “The Simpsons.” I guess I’m supposed to laugh at this? Also, when it pauses on the logos, it’s literally just a still frame. The clouds don’t move, there’s no jostling video effect or anything, it’s just a second or two of a still image. It felt like the laziest of padding for time.
– Marge’s great-half-step-aunt lives in Gainesville, Florida, which Homer is immediately turned off by, then we get a miserable montage of the family, everyone at the airport, and everyone on the plane just hating their lives for having to travel to that wretched place. Not quite sure the motivation for this potshot; I lived in Gainesville for four years in college, and I don’t quite see what the joke is aimed at. Are there college football fans on staff who just hate the Gators or something? It also reminds me that I originally started this blog right after I graduated… almost seven years ago. Hoooollly shit it does not feel like that long ago…
– Newer travel shows feel less like actually satire and more softball love letters to great cities and countries. New Orleans is lovingly depicted through beautiful background designs and showing off its landmarks and key locations, it’s like this episode is a travelogue. Homer falls in love with the boozy town, and we’re also “treated” to a literal one-and-a-half-minute montage of him listing off all of the amazing food you can get in New Orleans as he continuously stuffs his face. It’s all just wonderful, empty padding, but it just kept going and going and going. Also, there’s a lot of him eating sausages and po’ boys where he’s just sucking and slurping contently on this giant phallic object with his daughter standing in the background… I know my mind is completely sullied, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that imagery is slightly off-putting… The final insult is that after this endless montage, Homer is completely stuffed and asks a nearby Pimply Faced Teen if there’s any vomitoriums in town, which leads to another montage showing off five different puking establishments.

One good line/moment: There actually were quite a few good lines here. My favorite one was surprisingly in the limp B-story; while Bart looks at the wares of a voodoo shop, Marge prays for her son’s soul at a nearby small church. There’s a sign out front reading, “Closes At 5.” Next scene, Marge is in the middle of her prayer when he hears the priest locking up (“I need to finish this!” “All day you had!”) It’s a really funny line reading, and actually relies on the viewer having read the sign in the previous scene. This episode ain’t perfect, but it’s good, easily the best this season.

634. King Leer

Original airdate: April 15, 2018

The premise:
Moe encounters his estranged father, and after making amends, he inherits one of his stores from the family mattress business. However, this leads to an all out war between Moe and his brother and sisters’ stores.

The reaction: This is one of those episodes that goes right through you; I watched it, it ended, and it had virtually no effect on me whatsoever. We find out about Moe’s family and their mattress empire, but when li’l Moe chickened out of sabotaging their business rival, his dad excommunicated him. For whatever reason, Marge is incredibly invested in mending this relationship, forcing the family together for dinner, then later urging Moe to get his father involving to make peace between the warring siblings. This all builds to her eventually feeling comfortable enough to give Moe a friendly hug after he refuses his father’s evil orders to taint his siblings’ mattresses. So, poor sad Moe, him getting a new lease on life, Marge inexplicably tolerating Moe… we’ve seen this episode template many times before and I don’t feel like complaining about any of that stuff again. Moe’s father and sister are voiced by Ray Liotta and Debi Mazar, both from Goodfellas, and they dress and act very Italian… but isn’t Syslak Russian? There’s the joke in “Flaming Moe’s” where Moe bullshits about the recipe coming down from his czar ancestors, but it certainly sounds more Russian than Italian. This is also a Matt Selman produced episode, which I guess explains the seriousness of the ending of Moe looking down at his father and siblings and seeing them younger in a happier time. There’s a subsection of diehard fans who still watch this garbage (I guess I would fall into that category now… how shameful) who applaud the Selman shows specifically, and while for the most part they do have slightly better story structure and a clear intent on exploring characters and having an emotional climax, they always fall utterly short because the writing is as poor as ever. I could care less about Moe’s character turn, but it’s our triumphant happy ending and Marge couldn’t be prouder of the little gargoyle. “Moe, you’re a good man!” she croaks. I’m all for marching characterization forward, but I still can’t get behind these two. You can make Moe as cloying and emotionally damaged as you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that he and his establishment have kept Homer away from his wife and children for many, many years. Hell, a few minutes into this episode, we see Homer kiss Marge as she walks in the door right before he bolts out to waste his night away from her at the bar. Marge harboring a quiet resentment toward Moe makes a hell of a lot more sense than her trying to be his life coach as we’ve seen in multiple episodes. But I’ve already made this point before, several times. I can’t help being repetitive when this show is rehashing the same stuff over and over. It’s like it’s their job. Their job. Being repetitive is their job.

Three items of note:
– The opening features Bart being forced to sign up for school band, and after finding out Homer is ultimately financially responsible for his loaned violin, he begins torturing his father, using and abusing the instrument over what looks like a whole week. It made me think, were there any instances in the classic years of Bart fucking with Homer over a long period of time? Usually they were just one-off pranks or jabs, always coming off as precocious childish behavior. Even something as extreme as him busting a chair over Homer’s head in the tub is motivated, where he was trying to test his father’s might against Milhouse’s moms’ new American Gladiators beau. But here, Bart tortures his father for multiple days for no real reason other than to just be a dick, and it comes off as kind of unpleasant. Even in last week’s episode, Bart messed with Homer’s head in order to get to the not-Minecraft convention, there was a reason to it. Here, Bart’s only mission is to make his dad suffer. Funny? Also, at his breaking point, Homer imagines the violin taunting him by rubbing its fingers together (“You see this? I’m playing the world’s smallest violin!”) Wouldn’t the line be better if he said “the world’s smallest me”? Come on, it was right there.
– I’m still not sure what to make of Moe’s family. Moe refers to himself as the “white sheep” of the family, and the gag is that being in the mattress selling business is super evil (“They’re like mortgage brokers without the moral code.”) But the Syslaks don’t seem any more hateful and vindictive than Moe is. And the sister is introduced eating Chinese food with scissors, which I guess is a joke. I guess with this episode featuring Neutered Moe, his family being rude and cruel makes them comparatively bad looking, but I still remember the days of Moe threatening to shoot people and being generally violent and unpleasant, and I just don’t see much of a difference in character.
– Three separate times throughout this episode, characters use the term “reach around,” as in to make an effort to make amends (“It’s not too late to reach around and fix things with your father!”) But… they’ve heard what a reach around is, right? Surely I’m not the only one whose pure, innocent mind has been poisoned by sex terms they learned from the Internet. Was there no one in the writer’s room under 35 to point this out and suggest a quick re-write?

One good line/moment: Nuthin’.

633. No Good Read Goes Unpunished

Original airdate: April 8, 2018

The premise:
Bart seeks to wear down his father’s spirits to get whatever he wants using tactics from The Art of War. Meanwhile, Marge is disillusioned to find her favorite childhood book is a bit more culturally insensitive than she remembered.

The reaction: I’m gonna be exclusively talking about the B-plot here, since there’s a lot to unpack and I really don’t have anything to comment on the Bart story, so let’s go. At an old bookstore, Marge finds “The Princess in the Garden,” and is excited to share this old favorite bedtime story to her daughter, but she’s less excited in reading it, finding it’s full to the brim of horribly offensive and degrading stereotypes. What’s a mother to do? This storyline is the show’s direct response to comedian Hari Kondabalu’s The Problem With Apu documentary, wherein he talks about his feelings about the Apu character as a harmful stereotypical portrayal, talking with the likes of Kal Penn, Aasfi Mandvi, Whoopi Goldberg and others about ethnic stereotypes in pop culture and how they affect those groups. I’d highly recommend it to anyone reading this blog, and it’s definitely worth seeing to inform your reaction to this storyline. Marge and Lisa act as the show’s mouthpieces for their views on the matter, and they are quite… tactless, to put it kindly.

Let’s break this plot down: upon revisiting this beloved story of her past, Marge is horrified to find it full of very insensitive and denigrative portrayals of different ethnic groups, things she never really picked up on when she was a child. This in itself is very rich material to mine from, how nostalgia can whitewash our view of the past and how we want to sweep problematic elements of the things we love under the rug so we don’t have to re-evaluate them. Marge’s solution is to stay up all night and Post-It note the fuck out of the book, recreating it (she comments, ““It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book, but now it’s as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati!”) Trying to make the book more palatable to a modern audience (Lisa), Marge rewrites the entire book, now about a “cisgendered girl” living in South America who rescues horses and fights for net neutrality. Her new protagonist is now effectively a flawless Mary Sue character, leaving Lisa to point out, “But since she’s already evolved, she doesn’t really have an emotional journey to complete, it kinda means there’s no point to the book.” This leads directly into the back-and-forth conversation I transcribed above. So let’s talk about this: the writers view the “Apu problem” as being the crest of a slippery slope, that removing the problematic elements of a narrative means robbing it of its soul and meaning. They also appear to be equating “ethnic stereotypes” with “character flaws,” in that a politically correct fantasy story involves no conflict or personal growth. This all feels like more of the writers’ tone-deaf portrayal of those accursed rabble-rousing SJWs, like that scintillating writing we saw in the Burns University episode. I understand that it’s supposed to be an exaggerated alternative, but it still feels pretty ridiculous.

Lisa is not receptive to this version either, leaving a distressed Marge to ask, “What am I supposed to do?” “It’s hard to say,” Lisa replies, then directly turns to camera. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect.” She then looks to her bedside table, which contains a framed photo of Apu. “What can you do?” “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge comments. “If at all,” Lisa adds, as they both look to camera. The kicker of this whole scene is Lisa lamenting how a character once “applauded and inoffensive” is now considered politically incorrect. Forget the fact that it’s liberal mouthpiece Lisa crying about SJW PC culture, but it’s basically the show saying we never personally found Apu offensive, so that means he isn’t. That the outrage about this character is a brand new invention, rather than only coming about due to underrepresented voices finally having a small portion of the media spotlight to talk about their long-held feelings. It’s less of the writers not understanding any of the points made in and around the documentary, and more of them saying they don’t particularly care that much, and we may or may not actually do something about this if we feel like it. What a stance.

I think this entire controversy is exemplary of a large issue, in that The Simpsons as a show is completely anachronistic in our present day. The show was originally created as a response to bland, limp-wristed sitcoms of the 1980s, featuring a classic Americana 1950s-style nuclear family. Its rude and outlandish characters and biting social satire certainly stood out in a sea of “safe” shows like Full House or Home Improvement. But as time went on, as the show entered the 2000s, then the 2010s (and very soon, the 2020s), the television landscape changed. Culture itself is ever evolving, In addition to this off-kilter show becoming widely respected and accepted (counter-culture becoming culture), it had outlived the very shows it was lampooning in the first place. But rather than grow or change to counter this, or redirect focus and progress, the show retreated backwards, handicapping itself to its pre-established world and Flanderizing everyone in the cast with it. This is a show that hasn’t budged an inch in over a decade; while we see characters using smartphones and the occasional storyline about a current issue or trend, the characters, the setting, the comedy rhythms, the types of jokes, all completely stagnant and unwavering. It’s a show trapped in time, with no desire to change or attempt to reinvent itself, and you just can’t do that when you’re pushing your thirtieth season. Just look at the show’s complete inaction regarding a post-Mrs. Krabappel Springfield Elementary. Marcia Wallace’s final speaking role was in 2014, and Bart still has yet to receive a new fourth grade teacher. This is a bit of an extreme example, but rather than actually create a new character and explore different dynamics within a major setting of the show, the writers decided just not to bother. It’s easier just to not show a teacher in Bart’s class anymore, or if an adult it needed, throw Skinner and Chalmers in there to do their tired old schtick. Growth is hard, and this is a show that has proven time and time again that it just doesn’t want to bother trying new things, let along rethink old ones.

The character of Apu was created in an entirely different, much, much, much whiter pop culture climate. I mean, The Simpsons premiered a few years following the Short Circuit movies, where no movie producers or executives seemed to have an issue with a white actor donning brownface to play an Indian, while actual Indian actors were extremely hard to come by on mainstream television and film. I feel like Apu has more dimension and nuance to him that elevates him beyond a baseline stereotype, and there are plenty of jokes involving him in the classic seasons that are based in his unique character and not just being a rote stereotype. But, at the end of the day, he’s still a jolly servile Indian convenience store employee voiced by a white guy doing an exaggerated accent; the character is rooted in a seemingly innocent, but still present smidgen of racism. It also certainly didn’t help that over the years, like the rest of the cast, Apu became more of a one-dimensional stock character, and there were plenty of cringe-worthy gags where the only “joke” is him acting like a wacky foreigner, speaking in tongues, dancing a funny Indian dance, and so on and so forth.

The fact of the matter is Apu was always offensive. It certainly wasn’t offensive to the room of white guys who wrote the character, or Hank Azaria who rattled off the thick Indian accent to the guffaws of said writers, or to myself and throngs of other white fans who love the character. But to Hari Kondabalu and multitudes of other Indian-Americans, they don’t agree, and their viewpoints and rationales are valid, and worthy of listening to and understanding. There certainly wasn’t any malice or abusive intent in the creation of Apu, but in a modern context with more unheard voices at the public megaphone being able to speak their piece, he certainly is a character worthy of re-evaluation. Whether or not this storyline was just a stop gap acknowledgement before this gets “dealt with at a later date” as Marge claims, this episode really did feel like the show telling Kondabalu and company to go fuck themselves. His arguments, and the discussions that followed the documentary, all completely dismissed with the reductive rhetoric of saying people nowadays are too overly sensitive and PC. Since the episode aired, Al Jean has retweeted a few reactions from fans applauding their slam on political correctness. “Loved how you guys handled this non-issue,” one viewer complimented. “People just want to cry about everything nowadays b/c it makes them feel like they’re doing something. Don’t ever change!” Well, the show hasn’t changed in over fifteen years, why start now?

One good line/moment: Fuck it.

In closing, this brilliant tweet:

632. Fears of a Clown

Original airdate: April 1, 2018

The premise:
When his stardom plummets due to a recent scare of creepy clown sightings, Krusty takes to serious stage acting, but must deal with his crippling insecurities. Meanwhile, Marge urges Bart to seek help for his rambunctious ways and repent for his pranks.

The reaction: The Krusty the Klown Show is one of those show hallmarks that became more and more anachronistic the longer this show has shambled on. Inspired by Rusty Nails, the Portland-local clown Matt Groening watched as a kid in the 1960s, Krusty as a character already felt like a throw-back since his inception in the 1990s. It was odd that all the kids in town loved watching the hackneyed, kiddie antics of this cheesy clown on TV, but we still went along with it because the writing was so strong and the characters so earnest. But nobody likes clowns. Nobody. They scare children, they scare some adults, and nobody thinks they’re funny. The conceit of this episode was inspired by the It remake, as well as those creepy clown sightings that were nationwide a few years back, with Krusty’s career being ruined thanks to public perception over clowns (more on why this happens in a bit). Removing his make-up and going by his real name, he bags a role in a local play, but he must deal with his inner demons of self-doubt, represented by his face in the mirror telling him how much of a fuck-up he is. This happens two or three times where he runs out of the room screaming, and it gets repetitive. Sideshow Mel is also in the play, Krusty’s worked with him for decades, you couldn’t have a scene where he confides in him or something? In the end, Krusty bashes himself in the head with a hammer on stage during an anxiety spiral, which the audience laughs at, and he does a little song and dance, then cut to after the show, he talks about how he’s famous again and everything’s alright. It’s one of this endings where it felt like they ran out of time and just condensed the climax because you know everything’s going to revert to the status quo anyway, so who cares if it’s believable or makes sense? Whatever.

There’s a lot more to unpack with the B-story; we open on Skinner supposedly retiring, we’re at his grand farewell ceremony, but it turns out it was all an elaborate ruse to prank Bart, dumping honey on him and covering him with seed. Cut to Bart sad in the bathtub as Marge is attempting to clean him up. Then later, the teachers and administrators carpool past Bart’s treehouse and the gym teacher chucks a dodgeball at his head. I get this is Bart getting his comeuppance, but it just feels weird to see the school staff going out of their way to bully and humiliate this young student. Bart gets his revenge by supergluing Krusty masks to everyone’s faces, but then that leads to people randomly in clown make-up in the woods scaring people? The transition from his to actual creepy clowns showing up to frighten people is really tenuous and I don’t quite understand it, so I won’t bother. Bart stands before a judge and is about to get a light “boys will by boys” sentence, but then Marge pipes up, wanting her son to actually suffer consequences for his actions. Fair enough, but why have this prank that broke the camel’s back be in retaliation to Skinner and the school staff pranking him first? Grown adults bullying a child, that Marge seemingly has no issue with? Bart sees a therapist, makes a run around town to apologize to all who he’s wronged, and throws a big apology party at the school, but he actually has a big tarp of water balloons at the ceiling ready to blow. But Marge telling him how proud she is for reforming himself causes him to rethink matters, but he’s too late to clear the room before the water balloons come crashing down. “Motherhood sucks!” a drenched Marge muses as she leaves the room. And that’s the end of the plot! Marge has always been the endlessly suffering heart of the show, this never-ending well of love and acceptance for her children, and her reaching the end of her rope is such an extreme emotion for her, it could be the basis of a whole emotional arc (“Marge Be Not Proud” springs to mind). Here, it’s just the ending. Boy, my son’s a fuck-up, I had such faith in him and he let me down. CUE CREDITS.

Three items of note:
– The couch gag features the family running into the Museum of Television, passing by displays honoring the longest running shows on TV and their episode count. They whizz past Gunsmoke at 635 episodes, and sit down on the couch next to it with their own series plaque of 636 episodes. Only Lisa does the math and says they’re four episodes early. Why didn’t they just make this for the 636th episode? I guess then we wouldn’t get this great miscounting joke and hear Homer say “D’oh.” So worth it. But yeah, we’re coming up on the big milestone: The Simpsons will soon be the longest-running primetime scripted television show ever in both years on the air and episode count. Congratulations, guys, you did it. I mean, a good two-thirds of the actual episodes are absolute fucking garbage, but you did it nonetheless!
– Seeing the promo image for this episode with Krusty out of make-up, it just makes it clearer how much he looks like Homer, even more so later during the play when he has his hair slicked back and he looks balder, the only distinguishing marks being the bags under his eyes. I remember way back when Matt Groening talking about the design choice, with Krusty being this TV icon that Bart worships, but he has no respect at all for his father, despite them looking almost identical. But I feel like this is the first time we’ve seen Krusty without all his makeup since “Krusty Gets Busted” (or as Rory B. Bellows in “Bart the Fink,”) so it’s something you have to address. So of course, they do it in the most ham-fisted way possible with Homer just lamp shading the fuck out of it (“He looks just like me! And Maggie looks just like Lisa! And Milhouse’s mother looks just like Milhouse’s father! Why is this universe so lazy?”) What a lazy stretch for a meta joke. We also already went through the Homer-Krusty similarity thing in “Homie the Clown” too, now that I think of it. Man, so many great old episodes.
– Llewelyn Sinclair makes his “triumphant” return, twenty-five years after “A Streetcar Named Marge.” I think he showed up one or two times in a cameo, but here he has an actual big role, serving as director for the Death of a Salesman knock-off Krusty’s in. Jon Lovitz certainly sounds twenty-five years older, his voice with less passion and energy despite mostly shouting all of his lines. Like all returning characters from the classic era, there’s nothing really funny or interesting going on. We learn so much about Sinclair in “Streetcar” with so little information, him proudly showing off his review of a grade-school play, berating but also bolstering his performers, a man who had so much passion for his cheap, nothing productions he was actively gunning for a fourth heart attack. What do we learn about him here? Nothing, really. He might be gay; he talks about maybe being “something more” with Krusty and kisses him on the lips before he goes on stage. Boy oh boy, gay people in the theater? What a trailblazing comedic trope!

One good line/moment: Nothing, really. I literally just watched it an hour ago and nothing is sticking out for me.