647. Krusty the Clown

Original airdate: November 25, 2018

The premise:
On the run from the law, Krusty lies low in disguise as the circus, only to come to love being an authentic circus performer. Meanwhile, Homer takes on a new job as a TV recapper, only to discover a conspiracy involving our current “peak TV” climate.

The reaction: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but this episode re-reminded me just how incongruous the Krusty the Klown Show is in the year 2018. Lisa tasks Homer with doing recaps of the show, which is what exactly? We see Krusty, Mel and Mr. Teeny doing a hula dance against a fake set, then we see an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. At the end of the show, apparently Chris Pine did a guest appearance, and from the photo in a newspaper it seems he and Krusty did a Star Trek sketch. So is it like Saturday Night Live for kids? Krusty’s show has always been a catch-all for a bunch of different TV parodies, but as time goes on, his status as a renowned entertainer makes less and less sense. But anyway, Krusty literally tries to kill Homer in a rage while driving, getting them both in an accident. Bart somehow rushes to the scene and gets Krusty out of there before police can press charges. They do a “hilarious” bait-and-switch where you think Bart’s actually concerned for Homer’s well being but he runs to Krusty, but… his beloved TV hero just tried to strangle his father to death. Bart tags along with Krusty for the rest of the show, and he makes no mention of this incident going forward. Krusty hides out at a local circus under the alias “Soggy,” only to find his new fellow performers are true professionals who hate sell-out TV clowns. So Krusty needs to step his game up and rekindle his love of performing to go toe-to-toe with these guys… or he can get drunk and perform a crazy stunt by accident and that makes everything okay. But just as Krusty starts to truly embrace his new life, the circus has to close its doors (“A terrible video got out.” “Which one?” “The video we sell here at the circus.”) Don’t see how that makes sense, given how filled the seats have been and how excited the crowds seem at their performances. Do people even go to the circus anymore? Surely they must, but I imagine the industry can’t be doing too hot. Maybe they could have been a struggling performance troupe which causes Krusty’s long-dormant inner enthusiastic performer to come out and act as mentor to these amateur clowns. Considering the B-plot involves an over-abundance of streaming television people are watching (or not watching), I think the decrepit circus concept would have played better.

Said B-plot features Homer getting into the world of TV recapping, summarizing one’s thoughts and opinions about a variety of different shows after they air. Man, what kind of pathetic loser would do that? He’s of course great at it, and renowned the Internet over for his work, as all Simpsons are immediately the best at everything they try ever. He even incorporates it into his foreplay, which I thought was actually kind of cute, but then Marge gets irrationally pissed off at him, so I guess it was supposed to a sign that he was getting too invested in his work. The climax involves Homer facing down the head of Google-Disney (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), who goes on a big monologue about how “peak TV” is all a scam: there’s hundreds of shows out there, but most of them aren’t even produced; they know no one has time to watch that many shows, all they want is people’s subscriber fees. I actually kind of like this reveal (paired with Serafinowicz’s great performance), but I feel like there could have been more to it. The incredibly populated TV landscape and the psychology of what you’re gonna watch, one’s ever growing backlog of media to consume, and using streaming services in general, that’s more than enough material for an entire episode, not playing second fiddle to Krusty fucking around at a circus. Though I did appreciate them tying the two plots together at the end, with Krusty getting declared not guilty by a jury deeming his attacks justified due to Homer’s scathing B- review. These last couple episodes have actually had some decent stuff in them, but there’s still that ever present stagnation the show’s been lounging in for the last fifteen-plus years that’s hard to shake.

Three items of note:
– So yeah, Krusty as a modern day performer doesn’t really make sense anymore. From way back in 1990, Krusty and his show was an homage to the low-budget but charming children’s television programs, with Portland, Oregan’s favorite clown son Rusty Nails being the direct inspiration for the character. Krusty being a hometown performer who amused children with his cheesy buffoonery worked back then, and any joke about him being a higher level celebrity or getting knighted was funny because it was so absurd that a low-level children’s performer was considered at all notable outside the jerkwater burg he had fame in. But by the mid-to-late-90s, TV clowns went extinct, and by the time everyone got satellite TV and smartphones, locally produced television shows kind of disappeared as well. In an age of YouTube and streaming, what kid would waste their time and watch a rinky-dink, no-effort show like Krusty’s nowadays? It’s another instance of the ever-frozen cast of characters being more and more antiquated as culture marches forward.
– At the circus, we’re introduced to “hippo juice,” a strange purple concoction that circus folk drink, and eventually Krusty develops a taste for as well. It’s used as a joke multiple times in the episode, the performers drinking it is used as an act break joke… We see people drinking it so much, I was expecting there to be some kind of twist of what the drink actually was, or some kind of capper joke to it all. But no, nothing. I guess we’re just supposed to think the name “hippo juice” is funny enough to sustain multiple bits.
– In the end, Krusty saves the circus by letting them turn him into the police for the reward money. But when he’s let off and goes back to the circus to plea for his job back, they still rebuff him. Honestly, why not have him go with them? I know status quo is God, but I think when you’ve run almost 650 episodes, you need to start trying new things. They’re done a few shows where they shake the format up or try different stories, but the characters have remained stagnant since their creation. Why the fuck not have Krusty leave Springfield, at least for a little while? The Simpsons could go see him on the road, Sideshow Mel could take over the Klown show… I’d love to see new things happen to shake up the series’ foundations just a little bit, but it’s like Springfield is forever stuck in formaldehyde.

One good line/moment: Like last episode, actually a couple decent moments. The final scene of Homer’s story was probably the best isolated scene this show has done in years, even if the whole twist could have been handled a little better. But man, that Serafinowicz has got one dynamite voice (“There is no USA Network! There hasn’t been for twenty years! It’s just bus ads!!”)

If I may wax positive very briefly, this season has been noticeably less terrible so far. By no means is this show anywhere close to good, but episodes at least have had a handful of jokes in them. I used to think as the seasons went on, this show was in a never-ending free fall to a creative nadir that they’d never reach. But, at least for now, it looks like season 28 was the actual bottom, which had some of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Season 29 wasn’t nearly as bad, and now season 30 has noticeably increased in quality slightly. It’s like these two years has been the show attempting to claw and scrape out of the bottom of a pit. Will they manage to resurface and regain some sense of greatness? I’m gonna take a safe bet and say ‘no,’ but I’m at least a little glad to see a little bit of effort in these episodes again.

646. Werking Mom

Original airdate: November 18, 2018

The premise:
An extreme makeover by Julio gets Marge mistaken for a drag queen, and while she initially is horrified, she ends up embracing the drag scene, seeing it as a confidence booster. Meanwhile, Lisa is inspired by French cinema to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.

The reaction: Right off the bat, I gotta be honest, the conceit of husky-voiced Marge being mistaken for a drag queen is one of the most humorous ideas this show’s had in a good long while. A story about Marge finding acceptance in drag culture while having to hide who she is could have been interesting, but that damn pesky poor writing just can’t support it. With Lisa’s B-plot eating up time, we only get one quick scene of Marge getting introduced to a bunch of drag queens, then a musical number, and that’s basically it in terms of developing her relationship with these people and subculture. As usual, any further scenes would require them having to make Shantae (voiced by RuPaul) or the others actual characters who can hold a conversation, and that’s just too hard, man. Remember how well developed John from “Homer’s Phobia” was? Even as a caricatured gay man (and John Waters surrogate), he still felt like a real person who was actually emotionally affected by Homer’s ignorant homophobia. Here, none of these drag queens feel like they’ve gone through a story, they’re just there to say their joke lines and react to things on cue. The climax involves Homer’s discovery of Marge’s new identity, ruining her good time with a terrible self-aware line (“You didn’t tell me you were tricking all these people into thinking you’re a drag queen when you’re really a regular housewife in need of empowerment… and now that I say it out loud, it doesn’t seem so bad.”) I feel like they should have stuck with either extreme: have Homer wildly ignorant and belligerent and not understand why Marge is doing this, or have him be totally supportive and make the story about Marge worrying her friends will find out she’s really a woman. Instead, Homer’s emotional outburst was an impromptu mistake, one he’s genuinely sorry for and immediately tries to make up for. But this is apparently the last straw for Marge, who by the ending seems one sentence shy of wanting a divorce (“What hurts the most is I can’t imagine there’s anything he could say or do to make me come back.”) There was a long period of seasons, 13-20 or so, which featured Homer being such a flaming, selfish asshole that it teetered on Stockholm syndrome as to why Marge would allow this awful, awful man back into her life. But in the last few years, Homer hasn’t been so bad, but we’ve seen a lot of shows where Marge seems very quick to up and almost end the marriage. In addition, Marge claims Homer’s “selfishness” stands in direct contrast to the love and support the drag queens have given her, so this moment would have actually held some emotional weight if, again, we knew anything about these people or why we should care. When Marge tells them that she’s not a man, they all admit that they already knew, and that’s all. No one’s upset that a straight woman tried to co-opt their culture? Or, conversely, no heartfelt line about them being fine with helping a poor soul in need increase her self-worth? Again, if these were actual characters, we could have moments like those. After Marge says the above line, Homer appears on stage in drag himself, and that’s enough to win Marge back because we have less than one minute of show left before the worthless tag. Despite the potential of the story line, and for actually having some genuinely humorous moments throughout, the show is still missing that emotional core that keeps me at arm’s length from actually giving a shit about what’s happening.

The reaction:
– I don’t have much to comment on Lisa’s story. I think it’s supposed to be a parody of Amelie, but I’ve never seen it. Complete with a French narrator, she performs small kindnesses for the likes of Jasper, the Van Houtens, and Principal Skinner, but becomes discouraged when the happiness she’s bestowed on Skinner and his mother doesn’t last. The ending features all the people she’s helped showing up on the school roof to have lunch with her, so she’s finally have someone to eat lunch with. This feels like a conclusion the show in its prime would have viciously made fun of. The entire B-story is so lame and ham fisted, and time I wish was spent better developing the Marge plot. Also the green tint over all the scenes in the story made everything look ugly and washed out.
– Among the group of drag queens is “the mysterious Waylon,” pictured on the far left. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they threw Smithers in there. Sure, I suppose someone formal and straight-laced like him could be into drag, an extravagant outlet for his repressed every day life, but he’s just part of the set dressing here. Instead, it feels a lot like what the show has done in the past with him, where he acts as catch-alls for all non-straight jokes. Past bits involved him taking estrogen, or hinting that he wants a sex change operations (just last season we saw a “joke” about Smithers planning on becoming a woman. Do the writers know that being gay and being transgender are two different things?) Smithers being into drag isn’t necessarily offensive, but given their history of just ascribing him all these different contradictory identities because he’s the gay of the series, it just felt incredibly eye-rolling to me. Hell, I’d watch a whole episode about Smithers getting into drag, why not? It’d be more daring than this crap.
– The tag features disheveled drag Homer at Moe’s fielding questions from Moe (“So, you’re a drag queen now?” “I dunno. I guess these days it’s okay for everyone to be everything.”) I guess you could read this as a tired, forty-year-old man trying to make sense out of a new social culture he doesn’t understand, but it reads more like the fifty-plus writing staff grappling with all this gender expression/identity nonsense the youths are up to. For an episode trying so hard to be open and accepting (as seen with Homer’s almost immediate acceptance of Marge’s drag life), this felt like a weird, snidey note to end on. There are ways to make jokes and construct humorous scenarios out of topics like this that don’t come off as mean or back-handed (i.e.: the ridiculous comedy of errors involving the asexual Todd meeting his girlfriend’s hyper-sexualized family from the recent season of BoJack Horseman)

One good line/moment: Like last week, surprisingly a handful of smirk-worthy moments: Old Jewish Man’s banter, Marge imagining the Tupperware speaking (“Did you just high-five that bowl?”), Dewey Largo and his boyfriend (“I’m not leaving until I find my butter tub!” “Look in the mirror,”) but the best moment was a rarity for the show nowadays: a successful set-up and pay-off. Earlier, Homer is befuddled at the idea of using Tupperware to store leftover lasagna (“Whoever heard of leftover lasagna?!”) Later, Marge is raking in so much money doing drag she takes Homer out to a lavish meal at Luigi’s, leaving him so stuffed that he actually gets to take lasagna home with him! Then later that night when he takes it out of the fridge to eat, all he finds in the box is a note telling himself he already ate it at the restaurant. Hey, some writing with some thought behind it!

645. From Russia Without Love

Original airdate: November 11, 2018

The premise:
Bart pulls a prank on Moe by ordering him a Russian mail order bride. Moe is hesitant about opening himself up to love again, but when he drives Anastasia away, he decides he needs to get her back.

The reaction: Sad Moe finds love again… when the show revisits the same wells, it’s a little tough to figure out how to comment on it without repeating yourself. Despite being one of the series’ more lovably lecherous characters, Moe’s tender heart has shone through in a good way on several occasions, most notably “Moe Baby Blues,” but only when it’s balanced by his typical lowlife nature. Here, Moe is a pathetic sadsack from moment one when Homer dis-invites him to Thanksgiving dinner at Marge’s behest. When Moe manages to humiliate Bart during a prank call attempt (an actually humorous moment), Bart gets revenge by sending a mail order bride to his door. The core of the rest of the episode is Moe not wanting to take a chance on another woman who might potentially break his heart; the plot, up until the twist at the end, really has nothing to do with her being a mail order bride at all, which is strange. A lot of the episode isn’t really that bad; there’s a few bits of life that come through at points, but the story is very dull and lifeless. The Moe stuff is nothing we haven’t seen multiple times over, done better in other episodes. Eventually, he gets Anna to go through with the wedding, only for her to be exposed as an American con artist. Moe is in shock at this reveal (“You’re a scam artist! And one who didn’t aim too high!”) Anna asks him to clarify, to which he replies he’s in severe debt. Yeah, no shit. When Moe tries to win her back earlier, we see that Anna is now with Krusty, a major TV celebrity, surely a much bigger catch financially than a dirty old bartender. The show abruptly ends as Anna adopts a Scottish accent to court Willie, seemingly having learned nothing about picking your marks carefully. Rather than lean into a deep emotional place with Moe’s anguish, or something more comedic in the mail order bride material, the episode just kind of sits right in the middle: nothing flagrantly terrible, just very bland. Which makes it the best episode of the season by default.

Three items of note:
– Herman makes a reappearance after I don’t know how long as the one who aids Bart in his revenge mission by introducing him to the “dark net.” He proceeds to freak Bart and the boys out by flicking the lights in the basement, and then seemingly rips his one good arm off, only for him to pull out his good arm from inside his jacket. It was actually kind of charming to see him messing with the kids, even if outside his typical hardened characterization. But he was always a tertiary character at best, so why not mess with his personality a bit?
– Moe thinks back to his past lady loves, which includes his fling with little person Maya, and Laney Fontaine, aka not-Elaine Stritch. It’s a rare instance of the show recalling back to events within the past decade; it’s not necessarily fan service, but it requires one to actually remember these old, disposable characters. I remember liking the Maya episode, it actually had some heart to it, certainly more than we get here. And while I don’t care for Laney, I liked the reveal of her wringing Moe out as being part of her one-woman show (“She won a Tony tearing me apart, yet I left humming the songs.”)
– The always worthless tag features Nelson going to Mars to find his long-lost dad (he alluded to the lie his dad gave him about going into space earlier in the episode), only for him to abandon him once more by blasting off the planet. I always found these Nelson bits to be pretty uncomfortable, be it him pining for his worthless runaway father or just making fun of him for being poor. I remember one bit of him being thrown off the bus for not having money for a field trip, ending with him tearfully seeing his reflection in top hat and tails with him sadly assuring, “Someday…” Are we supposed to laugh at this poor pathetic kid? It’s like in South Park when Cartman rips on Kenny for being poor, but in-universe it’s acknowledged by the other characters as being a dickish thing for him to do. Here, I guess we’re supposed to bust a gut at this stuff? Same with Moe’s regular suicide attempts; there’s gallows humor to be made on topics such as these, but more often than not, we’re seemingly supposed to laugh directly at the characters’ plight, which is weird to me.

One good line/moment: There are actually a couple moments that could work here, but I think Moe sabotaging Bart’s prank call was actually pretty great, especially the blase manner he does it in (“I’m looking for a Mr. Buttface, first name Ima.” “‘Ima’? Nobody’s been named that in like a hundred years. And as for the rest, why don’t you double check that name. Try saying it out loud.” “Ima Buttface?” “Mistakes are how we learn there, young fella. Good luck in your journey into adulthood.”)

644. Baby You Can’t Drive My Car

Original airdate: November 4, 2018

The premise:
Homer and Marge get hired at a new, trendy self-driving car company with a fun, laid-back work environment, but become conflicted when they find the company is stealing personal data from its drivers.

The reaction: Sometimes I do actually feel bad for this show, since it’s gotta be so hard to come up with new ideas that not only the series itself hasn’t done, but also social satire topics that haven’t been tackled sufficiently by other shows either. This isn’t to say different shows can’t deal with the same subject matter, but if you’re going to double dip, you’ve got to have something new to say, and pretty much every time this show goes to an already frequented well, it brings back swill. The fun business campus of CarGo (is that even a joke name?), corporate spying and taking advantage of consumer data, even the self-driving car itself, all topics covered by HBO’s Silicon Valley, in much greater detail, and much more cleverly and intelligently. As usual with this show, the targets here feel so much like a first draft: lavish office toys and doo-dads that never get used, nerds talking nerd talk, the elements that other shows like Silicon use as their base to build upon, this show is content with using them as is for their actual big jokes. This outing is also ostensibly a Homer-Marge episode; when Marge rouses the coders’ spirits with a hearty game of foosball, she’s hired as some kind of morale booster for the company, despite one of Marge’s core character traits that she’s a no-nonsense worrywart fuddy-duddy. When it’s revealed the self-driving cars listen in on your conversations and transport you directly to the company’s corporate sponsors, Homer flies off the handle while Marge is not too quick to abandon the company she loves for whatever reason. This seems like it should be reversed, but no real reasoning is given why either character reacts or feels the way they do about the situation. Mr. Burns meanwhile investigates CarGo after the plant goes understaffed to see the secret to their success, and despite being wowed by their business model of keeping workers at work for no substantial extra cost, he doesn’t decide to actually do anything about it. In the end, he, Homer, and eventually Marge shut down CarGo, and the episode just abruptly ends. Watered down satire seen much better in other shows, and a Homer-Marge story that tells us nothing new or interesting or funny about the two of them, but it killed another twenty minutes, so throw that episode up on the board!

Three items of note:
– We start with a prime example of the show’s bad habit of taking potentially amusing quick jokes and elongating them, thus ruining them. Homer goes through the Krusty Burger drive-thru, where he is presented with his nuggets. “Chicken nuggets?” Homer inquires. Cashier Shauna’s eyes darts. “Yess…” she responds noncommittally. That, alone, would be decent. But then we keep going. “Including things that ate or were eaten by a chicken!” Belabored line, and unnecessary, but not awful. But then, we get a thought bubble from Homer of what those animals or things might be, an elephant, a rat, a boot, basically just a repeat of the hot dog bit from “Lisa the Vegetarian.” Homer contently drives away, chicken nuggets on his dashboard, and he sings a song about them, a sort-of parody of a Jim Croce song that’s not really amusing at all. This nugget bit could have been more than sufficient if left alone after the first five seconds, but it just kept on going, eventually being part of the impetus for Homer losing his job, by choking on his nuggets, careening into a construction area at the plant and flying his car upside down through Burns’ office window. Later, during a montage with the self-driving car, we open with seeing a Krusty Burger box labeled “Chicken” Nuggets as Homer sings the Jim Croce song again, in case you weren’t already sick of those two jokes from before. Unbelievable. I assume the writers and staff just love to hear Dan Castellaneta sing, but did they really think they struck gold with the chicken nuggets bit?
– Homer is gobsmacked to discover the lush cafeteria at CarGo is free of charge to employees. As “Pure Imagination” plays, he’s overcome with emotion and goes on a binge. A lot of the posing and camera movements are pulled straight out of the classic “Land of Chocolate” sequence (I guess as a tribute?), but as usual with all references to the classic years, all it does it reinforce how empty and shallow the show is now. “Chocolate” featured Homer at his more feverishly and deliriously happy, in this fantasy world made entirely out of chocolate, skipping merrily down to Fudge Town and marveling at the “CHOCOLATE HALF PRICE” sign in the store. Here, Homer’s just excited he gets to eat a bunch of normal food. Do we need to devote an entire minute to this bit? Homer already said he loves working there, he doesn’t need to be sold anymore. It’s just unfunny nonsense that adds nothing.
– The coders at CarGo act very much like classic Revenge of the Nerds type nerds, making those crazy nerd noises (can’t think of how to best describe them) as Marge calls on them to power down and have some fun. Also part of the staff are the old college nerds, but with different sounding voices, because who gives a shit about looking that crap up to make sure the voices are correct, right? But it all feels so easy, and at this point, so detached from reality. Silicon Valley shows us a wide variety of different types of tech nerds, from the traditionally socially awkward, to the over compensating, to the overtly weird and creepy. This show has no interest in delving into anything of the sort; they’re just a bunch of fucking nerds.

One good line/moment: Homer’s “Holy crap!” taking the self-driving car to the church with its drive-thru confessional (Lovejoy immediately closes the window upon seeing Homer). Marge surmises the company must be up to some monkey business, then cut to the two of them returning to work flanked by monkeys, with Homer wearing a “Marcel’s Monkey Rentals” shirt. Contrast with the fucking endless nugget bits, these jokes are quick, aren’t overstated, do their job and get out.

Just as a heads up, next week’s review is definitely gonna be late. Getting married tends to make one a little tardy, or so I’ve heard…