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.

23 thoughts on “648. Daddicus Finch

  1. Don’t worry Mike, I’m sure this episode was only a hiccup for Season 30 standards. Maybe “Tis the 30th Season” will be better… Once again, I thought an episode about Homer and Lisa bonding while also being an homage to a Harper Lee classic sounded like a sweet concept. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out like this…
    Damn son, this is the second review where you used pictures (First one being the 2007 atrocity that is “Springfield Up”). And I know you’ve said it countless times before, but Shauna is the worst fucking character. Why does she exist?! Why does she keep coming back?! Why is she the daughter of Chalmers?! Why does she go to Springfield Elementary School instead of the never heard of Springfield Middle School?! Why do all these characters feel like shallow stereotypes?! God, I miss Laura Powers…

    1. Because writing an episode about Springfield Middle School (or Springfield Junior High if we’re going to “Flaming Moe’s” establishment of what it would be called) would have to involve doing research about “middle school” culture and children who are in that awkward stage where they are starting puberty but aren’t old enough to drive, something the series has managed to last 30 years without actually doing. You know… an original idea! And because it’s an original idea, that means the show will never do it, and will instead just coast off of Family Guy.

      1. Doing research about middle school culture? Children who are in that awkward stage where they are starting puberty but aren’t old enough to drive? That’s what the show Big Mouth is all about. I don’t like Big Mouth.

  2. Thanks for keeping the good work up, Mike

    “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.”

    I hate it when animated shows throw in live-action sections. It takes me out of the story/world completely.

    1. Yeah, this is one of my biggest pet peeves in animation. It just shows you they were too lazy to animate something and instead spliced in actual footage, which breaks the immersion, which is the point of animation. If you can get the audio, why not try and recreate the scene in the style? It’s also hilarious how shows that are notorious offenders of this violation also ignore this, such as Family Guy, where they’ll randomly throw in live action sections for the heck of it, but then they’ll just recreate movie scenes anyway.

      1. Is it possible they had to pay Universal for the use of making Homer look like Gregory Wick and since they had to pay for the movie rights, they figured they might as well get their money’s worth by showing segments in the episode?

  3. It is a very depressing commentary on the series when the showrunner writes an episode designed specifically where the problem is solved in which one parent tells the other to stop being a parent and go back to being the negligent slob that said parent henpecks about anyway and considers this to be a happy ending.

    But that’s Al Jean in a nutshell for you.

  4. I didn’t find this one as bad compared to the Krusty one, but not exactly great either. They messed up Moe’s backstory even though they just showed us it last season. It was kind of weird how many times Lisa and Homer decided to watch Mockingbird, though showing scenes from the actual film was even more jarring. Can this really be considered a parody though when they are straight up referencing the source material and showing us bits of the film before they move into recreating that sequence? That kind of misses the point in my book.

    JK Simmons did give another great performance on the show though, so I’ve gotta give him props for that. It was kind of dumb, but god damn I love how fast that man can talk. Something I haven’t heard since Joe Moschita back in the 80s with the Micro Machines commercials.

    There were a couple of laughs it got from me, so once again, it gets a good rating for that. The epilogue scene was dreadful though.

  5. Are you sure you read the book in school, or was it like Bart’s ‘reading’ Treasure Island? Anyone who has can see that Lisa is playing the role of Scout, the daughter. And the scene of Scout unwittingly shaming the mob and it dispersing is a big one in the movie. In this episode’s case the writers are justified in assuming knowledge of such a significant piece of American culture. Whether they did a good job in responding to it is another thing.

    1. You’re absolutely right, I don’t know what I was thinking, it’s obviously Scout. “Mockingbird” is undeniably a very notable piece in American culture, but I just don’t know how well remembered or recalled it is by most people in 2018. Though that might just be my ignorance, as I’ve clearly just displayed. I’ve mentioned before how when the show would lampoon the likes of “Citizen Kane” and “Gone With The Wind” in the 90s, they had the benefit of cable TV and home video being very popular at the time, with a greater likelihood of more people getting to see these older films and know about them. But nowadays, with a bazillion digital entertainment options to choose from and distract us, it feels odd to me to base an entire episode around a 50+ year old movie.

  6. Yet another episode with a promising premise that could’ve worked, but fell flat in execution.

    I actually enjoyed J.K. Simmons’ fast-talking counselor. Yeah, it’s been done, but I still find it amusing. At least it was high-energy.

    I guess the argument for restoring the status quo was that Homer, being Homer, would eventually let Lisa down, and that letting her down gently before that would be better than her image of him crashing down.

    Oh, and the setup for the plot, Homer complaining about whorish outfits for young girls, was already done, and done much better and funnier, by South Park over a decade ago.

  7. I forgot to ask, has Chalmers even been established as Jewish? Also, there are way too many familiar faces there. Skinner I could understand as him sucking up to Chalmers, but the others? I mean, most seem to be related to the school, but then there should have been a line about them being forced by Skinner or Chalmers to go.

  8. Someone who works on the show is obviously incapable of seeing Willie in background shots. In the Facebook… er, Springface… episode, one of the end cards said, “Groundskeeper Willie was not seen in this episode” even though he was in the background of the courtroom.

  9. I know cartoons don’t have to be 100% realistic, but… Gill Sans font for the “Mazel Tov Shauna” banner? Really?!

    Also, she’s having a *bat* mitzvah. 😉

  10. I think it’s funny that so many people are baffled by Al Jean’s solo written episodes being such garbage, always assuming that a guy who co-wrote and co-ran so much of the show in its glory years would understand it better. But the more I listen to Jean talk on commentaries, in interviews, and on Twitter, I’m more and more convinced that Mike Reiss was the real heavyweight in that writing team, and that Jean was actually one of the worst options from the classic writing staff they could’ve picked to take over.

    First of all, Reiss is still funny today – read his book Springfield Confidential, it’s fantastic. Second, hearing Jean talk about The Simpsons, he always seems genuinely baffled as to why anyone should like these characters. On so many DVD commentaries, while other writers and directors and voice actors are praising the touches of humanity that ground the show’s humor, Al Jean’s point of view is always so much more cynical.

    In “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love”, while Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith are defending Bart as a jealous little kid who makes a mistake, Jean makes some crack about how Bart just comes off as “incredibly gay” for trying to break up Milhouse and Samantha. In “Mr. Plow”, when Marge asks Homer to wear his Mr. Plow jacket while they snuggle, Jean can’t imagine why she isn’t running screaming from the room at the sight of “this hideous man” coming towards her. And the most telling instance of all: after so many commentators, from Jeff Martin to Julie Kavner to Matt Groening himself, have praised Homer as a relatable, likeable guy who always tries to do the right thing in the end, along comes Jean on the commentary for “Homer’s Triple Bypass” to give his assessment of the character:

    “The message of the show is, y’know, Homer sucks. Y’know, he’s a bad man, and he does things that are wrong, and really, I think anybody who acts like Homer does is out of their mind.”

    So I don’t know when or how it happened, but apparently Al Jean’s view of The Simpsons is of a bitter nasty cast of characters who the audience shouldn’t like. And that really explains so much about why, when left to run things on his own without Mike Reiss to balance him out, things turned out the way they have.

    1. Damn. This was a harsh takedown. And you might be on to something.

      A lot of people believe that Al Jean brought The Simpsons back to a respectable quality when he became showrunner again. I never thought that. The show just became more lifeless after that, and it inherited every negative aspect of seasons nine to twelve. If anything, those aspects became amplified, especially Homer’s behavior. Half the time, he was a straight up monster who took pride in how much he loved himself and hated his family.

      Al Jean as showrunner was nothing like Al Jean and Mike Reiss as showrunners. Even the episodes they did while they worked with Disney were closer to the episodes from seasons three and four. I think once Jean wrote “Lisa’s Sax” by himself, he got it in his head that he could do it on his own. And then Reiss didn’t want to come back to the show full-time, so what you got was Jean’s sole vision for the next twenty years. Much like Mike Scully, it wasn’t the vision that the show needed.

      Matt Selman’s not a perfect showrunner, but he gave The Simpsons a fresh energy again. Something it desperately needed years ago.

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