649. ‘Tis the 30th Season

Original airdate: December 9, 2018

The premise:
When Marge fails to get the kids a new smart TV on Black Friday, the rest of the family plan an impromptu trip to Florida to make her feel better, a trip that turns out to be pretty damn miserable (as any visit to Florida is wont to be).

The reaction: As the episode’s title refers to, thirty years is a long-ass time. And this has gotta be, what, the fifteenth Christmas show, at least? I say over and over that I’d love to see this show try something radically new, but as usually happens, this show is perfectly fine just cycling through traditional sitcom plots sprinkled with attempted jokes and calling it a day. This Xmas special opens with Bart and Lisa asking for a smart TV, and Marge waiting on line all night on Black Friday to acquire one. Her efforts are thwarted when she takes pity on a pathetic, trampled Gil and helps him get his own present to his granddaughter while the last smart TV is being taken. I forget if this show has tackled Black Friday before, but it’s definitely featured great scenes of mobs in stores (“Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” “Grift of the Magi”), as have other shows taken the chaotic realities of this “holiday” to their extreme (South Park‘s Black Friday trilogy). Not to say this show can’t do any Black Friday jokes, but as usual, none of them feel particularly fresh or original. So Marge is crestfallen that she let her kids down, Homer catches wind of it, and consults the kids about taking their mother on a vacation for Christmas to raise her spirits. So, they drug Marge’s tea with Sudafed to get her to pass out as they pack the car and all start driving to their vacation destination (not even gonna touch the iffyness of that subject…) Arriving in sunny Florida, they find that it’s not so sunny at all, their hotel is an absolute dump, and the attractions are less than desirable. At this point, it’s just a series of travel vignettes running at a quarter speed at best, of the family going to crappy amusement parks and finding more things to hate about their terrible hotel. I kept wondering what the point of all this was; Homer and the kids try to put on brave faces for Marge, but in the end, she admits she’s not having any fun. Like, of course she isn’t, this is the worst place ever. I lived in Florida for five years, making fun of that state is like shooting fish in a barrel, and this show can’t even execute that properly anymore. In the end, the family returns to Springfield, and Marge’s faith in the holidays is restored by Moe’s yearly act of charity, and they all sit down for dinner. Bart says grace, recapping the episode and espousing the hollow message (“Dear Lord, we didn’t get the gift we wanted, the place we went was a dump, but isn’t Christmas about being with your family and your bartender?”) I guess the big joke is supposed to be that they’re celebrating at Moe’s, but at this point, he’s a close family friend, not just some skeevy guy, and they seem to have a nice holiday feast. Why is this funny? I’m sure it’s daunting coming up with new ideas for Christmas episodes, but if this is the best you can think of, maybe just sit the holiday out if you’ve got nothing to work with.

Three items of note:
– The last smart TV is taken by Cletus and Brandine. As they’re hillbillies who live in abject squalor, I wondered if they even had electricity in their home. Sure enough, they sing a carol about it as they leave the store, almost as an insult to injury for Marge. But why would they spend $500 on something they can’t use? And do they even have $500 to spend? I mean, making fun of poor American schmoes who just compulsively buy on Black Friday even if they don’t have the money to spend, or don’t even want the products, people who just buy literally because they’re “getting a good deal,” that’s a great comedic vein to tap into. Instead, it just ignores all that and leaves you with more questions than answers. Am I thinking too much into this? I mean, at least include a throwaway line about Cletus getting a windfall check for doing a slip-and-fall at Krusty Burger or something.
– The show takes their shot at Family Guy in a cutaway showing Disney hard at work at a new “Family Guy World” theme park (the second Disney-FOX merger reference thus far). As the Family Guy theme plays, we see costumed characters of the Griffins, with Stewie boasting, “I was the It Boy of 2006!” Firstly, is this a burn? Honestly, if your joke is commenting that a show has lived on way past its luster, and you’re doing that joke on The Simpsons, and you’re doing it in a episode whose titled literally comments that you are in your thirtieth season, you should not do that joke. I keep forgetting that Family Guy is almost at twenty seasons at this point. Is it similar to this show when it came back, that it just became a sliding scale of quality into a bottomless pit? Is there an alternate universe where I run a blog where I watch every Family Guy episode ever and snarkily comment on them?
– The final joke in this episode is especially indicative of how fall this show has fallen. Homer sets up the new smart TV over the mantle, putting on the yule log, as the family sits down to watch in awe… despite the actual fireplace burning just below the TV. Look, that’s a fair enough joke. But wait, what if people don’t get it? LISA, PLEASE EXPLAIN THE JOKE TO US. (“You know there’s a real log burning below it, right?”) Bart replies, “Yeah, but is it HD?” I guess that joke was worth insulting the audience’s intelligence. Like, I really don’t get it, you could have just ended the show, why explain the fucking joke back to us? Also, as I’m writing this, I remember that the show already did this joke! Remember “Miracle at Evergreen Terrace”?

My complaint isn’t that they did the same joke again. You’re bound to repeat yourself after thirty years, and honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. But look at this. This pan occurs after we change scenes to the Simpson house. They thought of the yule log joke, but kept it as an unspoken little gag your brain might not even put together as we set the scene before Marge walks in with Christmas cookies. Twenty-old years later, someone thought of the same joke, but was afraid the audience wouldn’t pick up on it, so they needed to overtly highlight it just in case. Is there any other explanation why? This show used to reward you for paying attention. Now, it desperately wants to make sure you understand every joke they lob at you.

One good line/moment: I think I remember a line I chuckled at when I watched it last night. But now it’s the morning and I forget it. C’est la vie.

648. Daddicus Finch

Original airdate: December 2, 2018

The premise:
After making an impassioned speech in her honor, Lisa begins to idolize her father, comparing him to To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch. Bart becomes jealous of her sister and father’s new camaraderie, and starts to lash out more to get attention.

The reaction: Remember last week when I talked about season 30 not being so terrible? Well… This episode was written by Al Jean, and while the credited writer doesn’t seem to matter all that much given how much these scripts are communally rewritten over and over, it always surprises me particularly how shoddy the shows with his name on it are, given he’s also responsible for some of the greatest moments in the show’s early history. Our saga gets rolling when Homer and Lisa find themselves in a children’s clothing store selling whore-ish clothing items. Homer sets off on a rant about how inappropriate this all is; Lisa didn’t appear to be at all uncomfortable or offended by any of this, but this single moment is enough to have her idolize Homer for the rest of the episode. She’s recently obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, and sees Atticus Finch’s quiet resolve and sense of morality in her father. She also dresses in overalls like Scout and speaks with a Southern accent. I guess it’s kind of cute seeing Lisa act so innocent and single-minded in seeing her dad with new, fresh eyes, but it clashes with the rest of the time when they write her as a adult, who you’d think would be logical enough to see that Homer hasn’t changed one bit. So Bart is annoyed by their new relationship, and at the fast-talking advice of the school therapist, decides to act out for attention. His big prank? Switching all the car keys at the valet at the local temple hosting Shauna Chalmers’s (ugh) bar mitzvah, which creates an angry mob for some reason. Bart races home as the townspeople are out for blood. As Homer play-acts as Atticus Finch to continue getting Lisa’s respect, sitting on the porch acting cool and collected, the angry mob arrives (now with many more people than before) and aim their weapons at him. What’s this about? It’d be one thing if Moe (the mob’s spokesman, apparently) had said like this is the last straw, Bart’s shenanigans have fucked us all over and now you’re gonna pay, but there’s none of that. It’s like the Springfieldians used this incident that a small amount of people were involved in as an excuse to gather together and murder one or more Simpson family members. Then Lisa walks outside. To re-set the scene, a bunch of townspeople are outside, all angrily holding weapons at her father. Also, right when she walks out, Homer turns his head to look at her, and we see a bullet hole shoot straight into the house where his head just was. Her father was basically a second away from instant death. Her response? To continue talking in her Southern accent and completely diffuse the situation by talking nice to Moe and Wiggum (who literally says, “Let’s go, everyone, she’s diffused us!” apropos of nothing.) Is that a normal reaction for an eight-year-old? As I’ve said time and again, these characters barely resemble actual human beings anymore, and that completely robs any investment I have in what’s happening.

Case in point, the wrap-up, where Marge wants Lisa to stop looking up to Homer. Lisa gets in a fight with Bart defending her father’s honor, who appears on screen bloodied and with a black eye, then cowers behind his mother’s back. Rather than react in any big shock, worry about Bart’s injuries, actually be a parent and punish Lisa, try to dissolve their feud in any way… we cut to Marge going to see the school therapist, believing the problem lies in Lisa idolizing Homer. It’s unclear exactly why this is a problem; really, sitting down with the two kids and actually discussing the issue, making sure Bart knows he’s loved within the family and Lisa to realize she can’t lash out at others, that seems like a good play. But no, status quo being God and all, Marge has to tell her husband to tell their daughter not to look up to him or respect him anymore (“It’s sweet that Lisa idolizes you, but it’s gone too far. We’ve got to put this family back in place.”) ?!?!?!? In the end, Homer breaks up with Lisa, I guess, and Lisa has moved on to a new hero as a saddened Homer walks by her door. So I guess Marge imploded her husband and daughter’s new relationship because she didn’t want to parent? They wrap it up with a hollow, manufactured “sweet” ending with Homer thinking he’s got a shot with Maggie, but it’s really all for naught. These episodes where they attempt to have an emotional core to them always feel like they fall the flattest, but at this point, they can’t even bother writing logical conclusions to them anymore. Homer and Lisa’s sweet new connection barely made any sense at the start, and made absolutely no sense in its dissolve. In one ear, out the other, I guess…

Three items of note:
– We open with a school play directed by hotheaded director Llewellyn Sinclair. He just recently reappeared in an episode last season in an equally as superfluous appearance, I guess in the show trying to get brownie points by resurrecting characters from the classic era. There’s a weird moment in this scene. They perform the “Origin of Veal,” featuring Nelson walking on, dressed Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, and shoots a dummy calf with an air compressor (one, why would Nelson know this character; two, what a dated reference; three, the show already made Chigurh into a literal character in an episode from ten years ago). Lisa runs on stage, protesting this (“No, no, you promised you would cut this scene!”) Sinclair responds, “No, no, I cut your scene because you were being such a nudge!” Now, if actually spoken in response to Lisa, you’d think there would be an emphasis on “your.” As in, I cut your scene, in response to Lisa asking whether she cut this scene. But no, Jon Lovitz just reads it normally. I don’t know if it’s Lovitz’s fault, or the person directing him in the booth, but surely someone must have given a shit about the lines sounding correct, right? Also, speaking of re-using guest stars over and over, JK Simmons reappears as the school therapist (where’d Dr. Pryor go?), whose schtick is he only gives each kid 45 seconds and talks really, really fast. I guess they got tired of reusing the J. Jonah Jameson character, but still liked it when he talked real fast. The Spider-Man movies were over a decade ago, are the writers still that tickled about Simmons’ fast-talkin’ guy routine? No besmirch against him, but it just feels so dated.
– As Homer gives his speech at the Li’l Preteen Whore store or whatever, Lisa looks back and forth from her Mockingbird book, with a picture of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch on it, to her father, who each time she looks back at him, seems to physically resemble Peck/Finch more and more. When Homer finishes his yammering, Lisa says the following line: “Dad, I’m seeing you with new eyes! You’ve become the hero of my book!” There are times that a line or moment is so baffling to me, I have to pause the episode to reflect on what just happened. First of all, no human being talks like this. The writers can’t communicate character turns or plot points through normal means, so they literally need to have characters explicitly say what they’re feeling and what they want or are going to do (as the Robot Devil would say, “That makes me feel angry!”) But on top of that, the line is also completely redundant; in a fifteen-second scene (that felt twice as long), we literally just saw that from Lisa’s POV her view on her father morphing to that of Atticus Finch (with “new eyes” as her hero). The show continues to have dialogue like this (“Dad, you saved us all with your calmness and bravery!”) In the last post, I pondered if it were at all possible the show could climb out of the hole it flung itself into to possibly being okay again, but then I watch scenes like these, and I feel like a complete fool for thinking that.
– Through the episode, Homer and Lisa watch the black-and-white 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird film starring Gregory Peck. As in, the actual live-action film on the animated TV screen. The show has done this a few times in the last couple years or so where we actually see live-action footage (one episode opened with them watching Dr. Doolittle at school for some reason). It’s incredibly jarring, and I don’t know why they didn’t just animate it. Plus, as it’s a film over fifty years old, the pacing is incredibly slow; the episode just slows to a halt as they’re sitting and watching it. In one section, they try to draw a parallel between the two stories with Homer being inspired by Finch getting a kid out of trouble… or something. Also, I read Mockingbird when I was in school, and I’m having trouble remembering all the plot elements of it. They don’t even have Lisa do an exposition dump about it, or talk about how much she loves Atticus Finch. I’ve also never seen the movie, and surely a lot of people have, but I don’t recognize or understand what’s happening in these scenes we’re watching. It felt like the writers just love this old movie and wanted to use it verbatim in the episode. And it’s not like Doolittle which was already owned by Fox, the Mockingbird movie is a Universal picture, so they had to pay licensing fees to use it too! I really don’t get why…

One good line/moment: After offending him or something, Abe tells Bart to put up his dukes… then to help him put up his dukes… and then immediately socks his grandson in the face. Solid laugh from me, but that was basically the only one for the half-hour.

Final nerdy nitpick: Hey, look, a mistake! During Shauna’s reading of the Torah, everyone is patiently waiting for her to be done already. Her father bemoans that the buffet spread is getting cold at this point. Notice Willie is sitting behind them to the far right. We also see him in two or three other background shots.
We then immediately cut to the buffet, where we find…

Whoops. I hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

All kidding aside, I understand mistakes happen. Thousands of eyes can look over a project and still stuff like this gets through, I get it. It’s just so weird that it stuck out to me immediately in just one viewing. And it’s not like animation mistakes in the old days when everything was done on cels. They could have easily replaced Willie in those few shots with a different character; he’s in the background, so he’s not animated. But hey, I guess shit happens.