653. The Clown Stays in the Picture

Original airdate: February 17, 2019

The premise:
Krusty relays a story from his past in the 1980s, where he embarked to direct his own passion project of a seemingly unfilmable story, with the help of some beloved familiar faces on the crew.

The reaction: After our introduction to the story through Krusty appearing on Marc Maron’s podcast, we get a glimpse of Krusty’s old film career, where he hit it big off a successful high-concept comedy (“You mix two kooky words together in the title, put a rap song at the end that explains the plot, and bam! You’re on the cover of Premiere magazine!”) When the film execs come at him with a sequel, Krusty rebuffs, having fallen in love with a sci-fi book he randomly came across, wanting funding to star in this story that clearly has great meaning to him. The execs agree, but only with a shoestring budget, and a Mexico shoot with a non-experienced crew. And just about when I was starting to get interested, said crew was being shuttled in from Springfield, featuring two production assistants by the names of Homer and Marge. The story then becomes about Marge becoming Krusty’s AD, and Krusty wanting to push Homer out of the way so he can have Marge and her decision-making skills all to himself… so, another Homer-Marge show. Sigh. I’ve mentioned a couple times before about how I feel like there’s no reason a show with this large of a cast couldn’t stay fresh after thirty years as long as they experiment with the components they have. Why not have an entire episode devoted to a secondary character and their world? How does Chief Wiggum unwind after a long day’s work? What’s Professor Frink up to in his lab? But as always happens, a Simpsons always needs to be crammed into the story somehow. Yes, I understand this is The Simpsons, but really, did we need another fucking episode where Marge reassures that Homer is her soulmate for the ten thousandth time? I don’t get why we can’t have stories about secondary/tertiary characters featuring the Simpsons in minor or supporting roles (“A Fish Called Selma” being one of the only examples, and one of the best episodes of the show ever.) It would allow some new personalities to take center stage, new perspectives, new kinds of stories, but instead, we just go through the same familiar beats over and over again. The ending involves Homer inexplicably being kidnapped by some Mexican ruffians, and in lieu of their requested million dollar ransom, Krusty offers up the negative to his film instead. Does that sound like a fair trade to you? Who are these blackmailers? Why did they still continue their shoot-out with the film crew after realizing they were using space-age prop weapons? What a pointless anti-climax. At the beginning, I thought the show would culminate with Krusty becoming demoralized by the creative process, a de-evolution of him not caring about art and just wanting to be crass and commercial (and financially lucrative) for his whole career. Y’know, something illuminating about his character. Instead, it’s this nothing story that wraps up with Krusty doing a nicety for a woman who name he doesn’t remember, working a job that made zero impact on anybody.

Three items of note:
– Late into the last act, young Homer has a vision of a cactus Bart and Lisa, appearing to him as representations of his future with Marge and how he needed to win her back. It felt very unnecessary, considering I didn’t really care about him in the story and his viewpoint on this relationship “strife” was stupid and it just resolved itself in the end. It seems the scene was only there so to justify paying Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith their hundreds of thousands of dollars that episode for more than just three lines in the wrap-around segments.
– The tag features Krusty going down to Mexico with Marc Maron to finally see his masterwork, shocked to find that audiences are laughing at it (“It was supposed to show how we’re all connected!” “Look around, man. Maybe it did!”) This whole idea of this deeply personal creative endeavor Krusty went on that didn’t turn out how he wanted, actively avoided seeing it for over thirty years, and now mustering up the courage to go and seek it out is incredibly interesting, as is the conclusion of making peace with the fact that audiences are enjoying it, and that it shouldn’t matter if it’s not for the reasons he intended, but it’s relegated to a quick joke in the tag. Once again, I really, really wish the Homer-Marge shit was cut out of this.
– More timeline nonsense again… I really don’t pay much mind to this stuff anymore, but I can’t think of a third thing to talk about, so whatever. This show takes place in the “late 1980s” and features a young, childless Homer and Marge who are maybe 19 at their youngest. Which would put them in their mid fifties in the present timeline. I know the writers don’t care about this, but surely it must come up at some point during production.

One good line/moment: Aside for enjoying the potential of Krusty’s story at the beginning, I liked elements of Krusty being an indecisive wreck during the entire production. Again, if there had been more of a focus on that for the entire episode, this might have actually been something intriguing. Working in post, I certainly empathized with him scrolling back and forth between dailies, unsure of what nearly identical take to go with.

652. I’m Dancing As Fat As I Can

Original airdate: February 10, 2019

The premise:
When he’s put in the doghouse for binge watching a Netflix show without Marge, Homer tries to make amends by taking dance classes to impress her.

The reaction: Apparently this premise was based on real-life strife with Al Jean and his wife Stephanie Gillis, so I guess this episode is almost like their form of couples therapy. Before leaving to visit her ailing aunt, Marge instructs Homer to not binge watch the newest season of Netflix’s “Odder Things” (groan), but eventually he breaks down and gives into his temptations. Marge returns and is absolutely furious, being cold and abrasive toward Homer for the duration of the episode. I understand that this is pulled from real life (there are many shows that my wife and I must watch together), and I get it’s exaggerated, but the “conflict” just feels so meaningless. Am I supposed to care about stakes here? I mean, I haven’t for many, many years now, so I guess why bother worrying about them now? Homer finds out Marge also binges a lot of dance competition shows, so he decides to learn how to dance to win her back. He works a lot with a teacher, and then at the end of the show, he invites Marge out to a big party with all their friends, woos her with his dancing skills… and then that’s it. The episode’s over. It’s played 100% straight, with shots of the crowd cheering, Homer and Marge looking lovey-dovey at each other, and we fade to black on their embrace, right before the unrelated tag before the credits. What a knee slapper, huh? Am I supposed to be so touched by the sweet, loving relationship of these characters I love so much that I am just enthralled by this non-ironic ending? Given the low-impact impetus of their strife, and how little I give a shit, I can’t imagine how anyone could feel a thing by this conclusion. Except for Jean and Gillis, I guess. I hope they had a nice dance after he binged season 2 of The Crowd or whatever.

Three items of note:
– So Netflix gets name dropped constantly, and the CCO of Netflix appears as himself, but the show in question is still “Odder Stuff.” The D-grade MAD Magazine style name “parodies” we’ve been getting for the past fifteen-plus years. Why do they do this? Do they think that making the reference non-specific that’ll make it time-less, despite using Stranger Things music and iconography? They even mention the Guffer (Duffer) Brothers; with all of this shit we’ve seen over and over, am I supposed to laugh that they changed one letter of the real noun, or the fact that they looked up the entries of “Stranger” and “Things” in a thesaurus? Also, Stranger Things doesn’t really feel like a show that Marge would be into, I don’t feel. And even weirder to think, thanks to the show’s floating timeline, in the early 80s when Stranger Things is set, Homer and Marge would have been infants, so they’re not even like the adults now who get nostalgic over their 80s childhoods.
– Characters in this show using modern technology always feels off to me, and then even more jarring on top of it is when they act like new tech acts like old tech. Seeing the kids are watching “Odder Things,” Homer frantically changes the panel to Not-BoJack Horseman (“Too depressing,” he comments. Zing!) But you couldn’t just “change the channel” on the streaming service. Could they not have had like a quick menu pop up where he switches to a different show or something? This really feels like nitpicking, but it just makes jokes like these feel even lazier and less thought out. In a similar vein, Homer finishes off his illicit binge-watching, with the TV displaying a giant “END OF SEASON 2.” Marge returns home, and Homer frantically turns the TV off. Sensing the set is still warm, Marge turns the TV back on, and the end-of-season message is still there. The Netflix app would need to be restarted when you turn the TV on, unless it were like on a separate cable box he didn’t turns off or something. Again, nitpicking, but it seems so half-hazardly done. They could have had Marge excited to watch the new season, and Homer nervously spout out a spoiler and nervously have to cover himself up, and the secret being revealed… but that seems like it’d be a lot harder to write, so fuck it.
– Apparently they had a woman from So You Think You Can Dance as a choreographer on this episode, who I guess gave her expertise to all of the dance sequences. This feels like more evidence that I was supposed to be entertained and impressed by Homer and Marge’s big dance at the end. It wasn’t supposed to be funny, it was supposed to be important and heartwarming… Ugh. So glad there’s gonna be 2+ more seasons of this kind of stuff!

One good line/moment: The bit with Homer writing notes on cards to Marge after saying she doesn’t want to hear his voice was kind of cute (“Enough with the rebuses!”)