657. Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy

Original airdate: March 24, 2019

The premise:
Itchy & Scratchy is getting an all-female reboot, causing Bart and the other boys to swear off watching the show. But when he gets exposed for actually enjoying the new series, Bart is ostracized, but then ends up joining a gang of sixth grade rebel girls.

The reaction: Well here’s a rarity: a topical episode that didn’t feel disingenuous, with good characterization and pretty good jokes… I’m pretty flippin’ surprised. From the moment Krusty announces the gender swapped reboot, we immediately get a shot at the showbiz community embracing diversity, just as long as it pays well (“See? Girls like my pandering! Remember this if there’s ever a gender war!”) Bart arranges the boys for to “hate-not-watch” the new series, while Lisa is excited for this new great step in women’s cartoon history. When she catches Bart actually laughing at the cartoon, she exposes his hypocrisy, making him a outcast. Milhouse of all people takes up the mantle of leader, which in terms of mirroring the impotent whining of misogynistic Internet dwellers, is pretty perfect: a socially awkward and meek boy with deep-seeded identity issues himself lashing out at those he believes are undermining him and his kind (“Girls get everything: bigger, softer baseballs, chick flicks, two piece bathing suits!”) He starts a new radical organization, the Boys Rights Association (“Right now, we’re just training BRAs, but soon, we’ll be the strongest, most supportive BRAs anyone has ever seen!”) Pretty clever, especially since it almost sounds like “bra,” like “surfer bra,” so it’s not awkward dialogue. Meanwhile, Bart’s only escape from ridicule is the girl’s bathroom, where he encounters three rebellious girls looking to tear down the patriarchy. But rather than being hollow feminist stereotypes written by fifty-year-old men, they’re actually more like prankster artists, vandalizing the Lard Lad statue with a dress (Lard Lady No-Nuts) and wrapping the boys’ urinals in saran wrap, all of whom ashamedly leave the bathroom with soiled pants (except for Milhouse, proudly stating, “This is why I sit!”)

When Lisa finally discovers Bart is part of the “Bossy Riot” gang, she is livid, angered that Bart is part of such a radical feminist movement knowing nothing about the cause (“Chicks get a raw deal! Little fuzzy on the deets, but take my word for it.”) Lisa, for once, is not really an eye-rolling rabble-rouser; she balks at Bart’s infamy, but then must nut up or shut up when he invites her along to their next big stunt. She’s apprehensive, but eventually decides to go, just in time to save a tied-up Bart at the school. Bossy Riot has gone too far, it seems; following news Krusty is caving to the BRA demands to cancel the Itchy & Scratchy reboot, they’re going to destroy the negatives to all the original episodes on live TV. I was worried the episode would do some both-sides bullshit in showing extreme feminism and equating it to MRA nonsense, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The girls’ actions are overboard, but also reactionary and nonviolent. In the end, Lisa thwarts the girls’ plans, but in the process, makes all the boys in the audience cry, impressing the Bossy Riot girls, who invite her to join the gang. In a sweet moment, after some thought, Lisa accepts, Bart gives her his colorful hooded mask, and she bikes off with the girls into the night. Of course we’ll never see the girls again, but letting this ending just play out with Lisa overcoming her fears and putting her beliefs into action was pretty satisfying, rather than having some contrived reason why she wouldn’t be allowed in just to preserve status quo, like the countless number of new, celebrity guest star-voiced friends Bart and Lisa have made who conveniently vanish by episode’s end. So… I… liked this? I genuinely like this episode, first since season 27’s “Friend With Benefit.” So what the hell happened? Well, this is the first episode credited to Megan Amram, who has written for the likes of Silicon Valley, Children’s Hospital and The Good Place. She’s also rather young compared to the other writers, a 31-year-old who grew up watching and revering this show in its heyday. This show has seen a lot of the same guys pumping out scripts for the last five years or so, with only brief flashes of new blood (Ryan Koh is the only newish name I remember, who is in his forties, and wrote the absolutely awful “Team Homer” “sequel” last season.) Is this the solution to the ever-important question of what the fuck could possibly fix this series? A newer, younger, hipper writing staff? Who the hell knows. But I’ll say this, I’m actually interested in seeing Amram’s next show, and that’s a hell of a statement.

Three items of note:
– The very first female Itchy & Scratchy is a “parody” of Pitch Perfect, where Anna Kendrick’s character sing while making melodic noise with Solo cups, except here, FemItchy uses cat heads, of course. My wife loves those movies so I’m very familiar with them by proxy, but it took a moment to get what they were going for, even with Tress MacNeille warbling “When I’m Gone.” I mean, I guess that’s a franchise seemingly all women love, right? Though those movies are very popular, part of me feels like the reference is a tad obscure with no context… although the music video for “When I’m Gone” has over 450 million views, so I could just be talking out my ass. Plus those Pitch Perfect movies are just terrible comedies, which I can say because my wife doesn’t read this blog.
– The girl gang are all voiced by female comedians; I give props to Chelsea Peretti specifically for actually doing a voice, almost like a parody of a disaffected punk girl. Awkwafina and Nicole Byer pretty much use their speaking voices, but they were good in their roles too.
– Normally this section is reserved for me bitching about specific moments or scenes and how awful they were, but since I liked this episode… it’s a little more difficult here. The only crazy moment of ire I had was Lisa pronouncing “gif” with a j-sound, like Jif peanut butter. I hate this “debate.” It’s “gif” with a hard g-sound. It just is. I don’t care what anyone says. I think even the creator of the first gif or whatever said it’s “jif.” I don’t care. “Jif” is fucking stupid. It’s “gif.”

One good line/moment: Honestly, for once, the episode is kind of full of these, which if you’ve been paying attention, doesn’t happen a whole lot. My favorite two moments were probably the aforementioned urinal backfiring incident, and the exchange when Bossy Riot turns on Bart (“Don’t have a lady cow!” “All. Cows. Are. Ladies!”)

Suffice to say, I’m very much looking forward to the comments section here, which I’m sure will involve conversation of Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel and other extremely related topics.

656. E My Sports

Original airdate: March 17, 2019

The premise:
Bart’s gamer team is on the road to the grand championship, and Homer joins in to be their coach, hoping to eventually rest comfortably on the laurels of his son’s successful e-sports career.

The reaction: I was dreading this one a little bit, an episode about e-sports written about a nearly sixty year old man, but this show really isn’t interesting in lampooning this contemporary subject, and the jokes that are here are pretty surface-level, or just old gamer humor (dancing over corpses replacing teabagging. I’m pretty sure we saw similar jokes in the thirteen-year-old “Marge Gamer” episode). The show itself is seemingly a Bart-Homer story, except there’s not really much focus on their relationship, and I don’t fully know what the intent was. Homer is initially befuddled that Bart can actually get money for playing video games, and upon learning of the $500,000 grand prize tournament, he doubles down in his support of Bart’s new interests, making himself the teach coach. After a brief detour featuring a hoodie-wearing, 19-year-old gaming guru (incredibly dry, with very few jokes), we get a montage of Homer supervising the kids on their computers. He’s not necessarily drilling them, he’s just kind of testing them with distractions and refilling them with coffee. After that we get a dream sequence of Homer rubbing elbows with other parents of famous successful athletes, at which point the plot now changes into Homer wanting to achieve glory vicariously through his son. Couldn’t that have been set up earlier? Why bother? Making the finals, the Simpsons jet off to Seoul, South Korea, with Lisa tagging along to take Homer and Marge to a Buddhist temple, where she teaches her parents about achieving inner peace and entering a zen state. This is all introduced within the final five minutes of the episode. Now Homer is super zen, wanders his way to the tournament where Bart’s team is about to win, and just shuts down the power via a convenient master power switch on the roof that he’s able to access somehow. Now… a few things. Through the episode, Homer never seemed too angry or obsessed or overwhelmed by his role as Bart’s coach. The living-through-Bart thing was randomly introduced later, but never seemed to be negative or overbearing, as perhaps it should have been. He just seemed cool and chill about doing this thing with Bart, so the turn of him learning to chill out and rebuff competition really makes no sense. Meanwhile, his out-of-left-field attitude change comes completely at the cost of Bart, who not only lost the $500,000 grand prize, but in the final scene of the show, we see that his teammates are super pissed at him and hitting him with stuff on the flight home. Not quite sure why they’re blaming him. Do they know Homer causes the power outage? Does Bart know this? What’s the resolution to this Bart-Homer bonding story? The answer is there isn’t one. And when we pan by Homer on the plane, he looks pissed about there being no in-flight entertainment, so his whole zen revelation was completely wasted, I guess. At least until he gets upgraded to first class because he’s too fat (“Thank the Buddha I win again!”) Too bad all it cost your son was a huge cash prize and his friendships. I can’t even get mad at this ending because I have no clue how the fuck we got here. What a mess of an episode.

Three items of note:
– Bart’s teammates are the usual suspects of Milhouse, Martin and Nelson (I’m past the point of complaining why these four tolerate each other in social settings), as well as Krusty’s daughter, Sophie. Not quite sure why she’s there. I  thought maybe they’d want to do some material about women in the professional gaming space (what fun material for a comedy show! What could be toxic about that subject?), but all we got was one gamer girl joke at the very end (“If I win, I’ll be the most famous girl gamer of all time! Also, if I lose!”) I’m sure there are a couple prolific female gamers in e-sports, right? Whatever. It’s still weird that it’s Sophie. Why not Sherri or Terri? Or Janey? Those characters still exist, right?
– At the beginning of the episode, Lisa balks about Homer rewarding Bart for bad behavior by buying him a game station set-up. Fourteen minutes later, she shows back up again, sitting in her room in the dark, lamenting about not being paid attention to. Marge walks in and offers to spend the day with Lisa, but Lisa, now with an eye twitch, shuts that shit down flat (“Mom, I try to spare you because I don’t want you feeling thoroughly appropriate guilt for what this family does to me.”) She then explains that the Jogyesa Monastery is in South Korea, and she’s desperate to go (“I’m holding onto a thin rope here, because if Bart and Dad go to Seoul and I miss out, I’ll lose my grip!”) She then proceeds to freak the fuck out, and Marge gets her to shut up by saying they’ll go to South Korea too. Man, Lisa needs to calm her tits. Seriously, what is her damage? This behavior is appropriate in a lot of other episodes where Bart falls into great success, fame or luck by pure accident, being given access to things Lisa would kill for that he responds with apathy or stupidity. In this case, Bart and Homer have actually worked very hard to reach the finals, and their efforts are paying off. If the show featured Lisa turning her nose up at pro gaming throughout, this scene would kind of make sense, but instead, she just reappears to whine and complain and damn near have a seizure until her mother gives her what she wants. When Marge tries to placate her and spend some time with her daughter, Lisa responds basically with emotional blackmail at the cost of an expensive plane ticket halfway around the world. Why are there so many instances in these past couple years of the show actively trying to make me hate Lisa?
– There’s some pretty lazy sight gags throughout the show that stuck out to me. When the pro gamer Homer hires decides to give up his career, Homer and the kids oversee him in the backyard burn his hoodie on the grill, as well as his notebook conveniently labeled “10,000 Video Game Hacks Only I Know.” At the end of the episode, we see little thought bubbles of Bart and the others as they get close to winning. Three of them dream of the first place trophy, Martin dreams of Nelson with a NEW FRIEND sash, and Nelson dreams of a wooden door labeled BEDROOM WITH DOOR. Both of these feel like incredibly lazy jokes. They both feel like they were pitched in the writer’s room as concepts, they tried to figure out how they could organically and logically work them into the script visually, and this is what they eventually gave up on and just left in the script anyway.

One good line/moment: Eh, I got nothing for this one. A lot of the episodes recently have been kind of innocuous and boring in their badness, but this one felt particularly aimless, and then just pulled it out with that nonsensical ending.

655. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Original airdate: March 10, 2019

The premise:
After taking a tumble down the stairs, Homer and Marge are told to take it easy in their middle age. But while Marge takes up kitesurfing after getting better, Homer has taken to being as immobile as possible out of fear of getting injured again.

The reaction: The last two entries I talked about how much I wished the series would take a chance on devoting episodes to the secondary cast, and episodes like these are why. Another Homer-Marge tiff? Can’t get enough of ’em! I will say that the beginning I did kind of enjoy, where Homer and Marge sneak into a wedding expo wearing someone else’s name tags and have a great time. Later, Homer as “Dr. Heffernan” is whisked away to deliver a keynote, but rather than be an elongated scene of him making a fool of himself, we cut to see him and Marge bluffing their way through the presentation to the crowd’s enthusiasm. That was pretty adorable. Getting home, Homer almost carries Marge all the way up the stairs before he cracks his back, sending them both all the way down. Marge is left with a light ankle sprain, and Homer a herniated disc. The ensuing episode then turns into Marge, after healing quickly, taking up an extreme sport and being annoyed that Homer would rather sit around and do nothing while he heals. This is all the “fault” of Homer’s hallucinated personification of his hernia (voiced by Wallace Shawn), who urges him to listen to doctor’s urges to rest and why bother getting up if you’re just going to risk getting hurt again. This second element muddies the waters a bit of Homer’s motivations; beyond the fact I don’t know how long it takes for a hernia to heal, Homer is a lazy sloth, but also appears to be genuinely concerned about this happening to him again. Or is that just his internal excuse to continue being a lazy blob? I’m not fully sure. Initially Marge takes up kite surfing specifically without Homer (“I’m not letting Homer drag me down this time!”), and later gets angry and annoyed at him for not wanting to go to the beach (“If you don’t come after me, there’s a big problem!”) Because I’m not sure the extent of Homer’s actual pain, or how much time has gone by since the accident, Marge comes off kind of terribly here. Homer is borderline agoraphobic thanks to his hernia vision pumping his head full of the dangers of the outside world, but Marge seems to not really give a shit. Eventually, Homer gets to the beach and wins back his wife… blah blah blah. The story wraps up by eighteen minutes in, so these scripts must be getting shorter and shorter. Just thinking about this, I would love an episode featuring Marge as an unintentional antagonist, where she has to choose between something new and fun and Homer, Homer doesn’t want to feel like he’s weighing her down and refuses to let Marge give up, Marge realizing she was lashing out at Homer to harshly, and then all coming up with a happy compromise… I dunno, something like that. But recent years have seen far too many instances of Marge being unnecessarily cold to Homer (or worse, Lisa) for very thin reasons. Not a good look.

Three items of note:
– In the first act, the kids are left in the responsible care of… Shauna? Oh dear God… Jimbo promptly sneaks in and they make out a bunch. I guess to the writers that’s excellent social satire on teenagers and a great scene punctuation. When Homer and Marge get home, Homer shoos Shauna, Jimbo and the other bullies out of his living room, and then he and Marge proceed to go upstairs without checking to see if the kids are even in the house (they’re not).
– Marge wheels into the TV room on a little trolley to elevate her injured ankle, but it also has a little tray in the front full of snack foods. It seems like she’s delivering them to Homer to eat on the couch, but then she just leaves the scene. All that food has to be for Homer, right? Who else would it be for? Did the scene get cut? And also, it kind of undercuts Marge’s utter frustration at Homer’s obesity in the very next scene if she was going to be delivering salty snacks directly to her husband’s fat face.
– The show gets its mileage out of Marge’s New Zealand kite surfing coach and his thick accent, which leads to the extended final scene featuring him to be outed as a spy interested in shadowing Homer at the nuclear power plant (“The Crepes of Wrath,” anyone?) The ending also features Wiggum in a life-like Homer suit and an outro styled after the Mission: Impossible TV show for no reason. Again, the script was very short.

One good line/moment: Again, I did enjoy Homer and Marge both having a good time at the wedding expo play-acting as husband-and-wife wedding planners (“Buy our book if we have one!”) The backseat of their car being chock full of free swag when they get home was also a nice touch.

654. 101 Mitigations

Original airdate: March 3, 2019

The premise:
Facing prison time after joyriding in Comic Book Guy’s beloved car, Homer’s last hope is to create a sentencing mitigation video to help sway the judge’s favor.

The reaction: Just as last episode cracked open a door about one side character’s inner psyche only to have it promptly slammed shut, here we get a pinhole view into Comic Book Guy’s past and his inner self, but it’s completely ignored in favor of sole focus on Homer and other unrelated shenanigans. Given the wrong keys at the valet by accident, Homer takes the kids on a lengthy joyride in a vintage Cadillac. Upon returning, its owner turns out to be Comic Book Guy, who is livid at it being returned with a scratch and his rare Radioactive Man #1 comic in the backseat completely destroyed (what it was doing there is unexplained). He mentions the car was his father’s and has sentimental value because of it, but that’s about as far as the explanation goes. As much as the Simpsons plead with him to show mercy and drop his grand theft auto charge, CBG stands (er, sits) firm, claiming this is a matter of defending his dignity and not to be pushed around, as he feels undermined in life already as an overweight comic book geek who gets no respect from his customers (as we see with a preposterously cocky Milhouse who comes in to boss him around). So, yeah, CBG is a sad sack loser who I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for… maybe? But, he also has a wife who loves him, who appears silently in two scenes. Remember her? Just like Selma’s adopted daughter, she’s a character who basically amounts to set dressing. Marge doesn’t bother meeting with Kumiko to try to get her to talk reason to her husband, she appears to have no opinion about any of this. When we see CBG lamenting in his back office about the sad, sequestered life that he leads, where does his wife fit into all this? In the end, Homer is saved by his Welcome Back, Kotter keychain, which, after explaining it has sentimental value as his father gave it to him, it get promptly smashed to bits by CBG, a seemingly satisfactory eye-for-an-eye of destroyed cherished items. Again, this would have been the perfect moment for CBG to say something, anything about what value his father’s car holds for him. Maybe he and Homer both had terrible fathers, but these items represent their childhood memories of the good times they had with their dear old dads. But no, we quickly wrap things up as quickly and illogically as possible (“Are you saying I’m off the hook?” “Yes! In fact, you may be surprised, but you are now my best friend.” “So I’m not going to prison?” “No. You are going to Comic-Con with me!”) Then we see them at Comic-Con. Where’s Kumiko? She’s a manga artist, right? Wouldn’t she want to go to Comic-Con with her husband? Oh, never mind. Season 12’s “Worst Episode Ever” wasn’t a fantastic episode, but it at least tried to flesh out CBG a bit, and examine how his pettiness and seething sarcastic nature has alienated him from the world. Here, we have an episode seemingly about CBG, but barely even tries to look into anything new about him.

Three items of note:
– Lisa proposes the idea of making a sentencing mitigation video, showing off an example director Guillermo del Toro did to help Mr. Burns get off. The staff loves del Toro, who previously directed the opening to a Treehouse of Horror, who appears on screen in his famous House of Horrors, and his video is filled with references to his movies. But, as always, these are not jokes, they are references. I absolutely love del Toro, but there’s not even an attempt made to make any kind of joke about him or his work, it’s all just a fawning wank-job (Lisa coos, “Once again, Mr. del Toro stripped away the darkness and found beauty at its core!”) I guess Marge referring to The Shape of Water as the “fish-snuggling movie” counts as a joke? Not really though. And then of course we see a dream clip of Homer as the fish monster. I’m sure del Toro loved being on the show, and I’m happy for him, but he’s another in an endless conga line of completely wasted guest stars. Can you think of any celebrity guest from the classic years who was on the show just to be praised and lauded? They made American hero Buzz Aldrin say “Second comes right after first!” for God’s sake.
– Going to the various townspeople to film them about how wonderful Homer is reminds me of the long-running joke across many seasons how Homer is this widely hated pariah of the town (even all the way up to the 500th episode where they exiled the Simpsons because they hated them all so much). How did they think this project was going to go down? We see them talking to Moe, the closest friend Homer really has (next to Barney, I guess, or Lenny and Carl), Smithers, Skinner (?), and then we alway see Patty and Selma in the cut-up video. Patty and Selma. Even as wishful thinking as Marge is, she surely would know better than to ask her sisters to say nice things about Homer. It’s stuff like this that makes these shows unbelievable, when the characters do things that makes no sense for them to do.
– The final mitigation video features Homer being kind of a good dad, and manipulating Maggie into saying, “My daddy,” to curry favor with Judge Snyder. Except, we saw earlier when Homer tried to relate to him as a father, he was clearly very embittered by it (“I’m a judge, but I’m also a father… a father whose ex-wife only sees their kids at summers and Christmas. I don’t need you to rub it in!”) So why would the Simpsons think this video, which is even more cloying as a caring, loving family, would make Snyder feel any differently? Again, unbelievable.

One good line/moment: CBG wearing a Radioactive Man tie to court was a cute touch, and furthered his connection to himself and the destroyed comic. If his speech was actually emotionally revealing, and not just repeating the same surface level details we already knew, it would have actually meant something.