662. Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion

Original airdate: May 12, 2019

The premise: Desperate to find the kids health coverage, Marge’s last resort is crystal healing from some weirdo new age store. When the crystals seemingly work wonders on Bart’s ADD, Marge takes a greater interest in the newly defunct business, opening her own new age healing store out of the garage.

The reaction: Marge starts a new business, taking on new age medicine, Bart feels bad for lying to his mother… all of this ground we’ve trodden over before, making for a real thud of a season finale. Our plot goes into motion with Mr. Burns eliminating children’s health plans from his employee benefits, and Marge needing to find an affordable alternative to Bart’s Focusyn ADD medication. I guess they worked out the kinks of that drug over twenty years time. I get that it’s implied that Bart is a rambunctious scamp that needs to be drugged to contain himself, but the fact that we never see such a thing makes any contrast the show seek to create not as effective. Out of options, Marge wanders into a new age healing store, where she’s informed of the magical power of crystals. Wearing one around his neck, Bart comes home with an A paper, winning Marge over on this kooky new treatment. Eventually, she comes upon the healing store’s inventory when the owner joins a cult (Marge seems relatively nonplussed by this), and eventually opens up her own shop to sell to her eager-to-buy friends. When she eventually expands her marketplace to the likes of fairy traps, moon potion and brain powder, it’s unclear exactly how much of this Marge believes to not be a big fake scam. She had a moment of internal conflict when she initially picks up the business, questioning how much these products actually do work, but after that, she’s just selling this shit happily with no real qualms about it. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers Bart’s been using the crystal to help him cheat on his tests by convoluted means, and eventually forces him to tell Marge the truth. At the exact same time, angry customers come at her wanting refunds, revealing the crap never worked after all (at this point, weeks must have gone by, what took them so long?), Marge closes up shop and that’s it. Last episode featured her wanting some excitement in her life starting a business, and I commented it would have been better if we actually saw some of that instead of her just telling us. I guess I got my wish. She was proud of what she accomplished, but rather than show any actual reflection about it, or any kind of satisfying wrap-up to whatever the hell we just watched, instead our final scene features Homer in a leotard working out to a women’s exercise tape. Sigh. This is the second episode written by new writer Megan Amram; after seeing “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” I wrote that I was interested in seeing what her next show would be. Well… there it was. Fuck me for trying to find a hope spot, I guess. Her first show felt like it had a little personal identity to it, but this one is just like all the rest, written and rewritten and rewritten in the writer’s room until it’s just like a bowl of flavorless mush.

Three items of note:
– Two thirds into the show, Marge is confronted by Piper (Jenny Slate, another great comedian wasted), owner and proprietor of a new age kiosk at the Shelbyville Mall, pissed that Marge’s store is cutting into her business. So are Shelbyvillians driving to the neighboring town to get their holistic bullcrap? The only clientele we’ve seen thus far are familiar faces (Cookie Kwan, Sarah Wiggum, Helen Lovejoy, etc), so whatever. Heated up by her newfound success in business, Marge decides to take Piper head on by opening her own kisok across from hers. In Shelbyville. Why didn’t they just make this at the Springfield Mall? And haven’t there been a handful of episodes from the past fifteen years re-framing Shelbyville as an affluent, high-class well-to-do city who mock their hick neighbors? Oh, who cares. Right as Marge is reigning supreme over Piper, Bart admits his lie, and then the likes of Luann and Nelson’s mom show up to complain that her shit don’t work (driving all the way to Shelbyville to complain, I guess. Did they carpool?) Blegh.
– Ned walks next door with one of Bart’s A papers to compliment Marge on the success of her “pagan hogwash.” For a moment, I was wondering why the hell he would know about Bart’s grades, but then I remembered that one year ago, they officially made him the new fourth grade teacher. We even get a small scene with him later before Lisa exposes Bart’s cheating plan. Now, I’m a freak who still watches this garbage show and obsesses over details way too much, and I forgot that Ned was the new teacher. They haven’t mentioned or shown it once for this entire season. The school has always been primary set piece for this series, and a new teacher for Bart is a mighty big role, let alone it being a major secondary character we’ve known since the show’s beginning. This is a tremendous change in the dynamics of this show, and it hasn’t been explored at all. How does Ned differ from Mrs. Krabappel, his dead wife? How does he feel about filling her shoes? What is his dynamic with Bart, Nelson, or the other students? How does he get along with Skinner or Willie or Miss Hoover, his new co-workers? These are all very rich questions a writer would hypothetically be interested in exploring. But why the fuck bother? We’ll just keep writing the same shit, and only mention Ned as the teacher if we absolutely have to. What kind of mentality is that?
– Bart initially balks at Lisa demanding he tell Marge the truth. She rebuffs, “You don’t realize how bad this is, do you? You betrayed the one person who still believes in you.” Just when I thought they were going to actually have a nice Bart-Lisa moment where he reflects and processes what he’s done, we go into a silly, upbeat montage set to The Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama” featuring Homer tossing Bart into a lion’s den and Marge fending them off, and Marge helping Bart write his chalkboard punishment. Following that, Bart is aghast (“Oh my God! She’s shown me nothing but love! How do I make this guilt go away?”) Terrible. I think back to the great writing from shows like “Marge Be Not Proud” where Bart and Lisa talk about how Marge’s anger and disappointment is manifesting in a different way (“Her heart won’t just wipe clean like this bathroom countertop. It absorbs everything that touches it, like this bathroom rug.”) And then when Bart asks how he can fix it, Lisa shrugs. Because she’s an eight year old kid. What beautiful, realistic, and funny writing. It’s a true rarity when characters on this show actually talk or react in a fashion that feels like they’re believable people, rather than just joke-spewing automatons jittering about for twenty minutes until they run out of juice.
– So this show has already mined material out of new age hippy stores almost twenty years ago, with some of the only good material from “Make Room for Lisa” (“Namaste.” “And an ooga-booga to you too!”) But more of this show reminded me of one of South Park‘s best earlier episodes “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” where the gullible morons of South Park are tricked into buying the expensive wares of holistic medicine by “native” Americans in a shop run by Miss Information. A sick Kyle needs a kidney transplant, and this new age bullshit makes his parents feel like they’re actually doing something, but it’s really just making it worse. When Stan asserts that a doctor at the hospital told him that Kyle needs an operation or he’ll die, Miss Information retorts, “Well, of course the doctor told you that, because he wants to make money!” Then she turns to charge Kyle’s mother hundreds of dollars for some more crap. It’s a pretty great episode that actually has something to say about this topic, as well as telling a personal story with the main characters (the only person in town with Kyle’s blood type is Cartman, and he isn’t going to give up his kidney quietly). None of this, of course, is present in this whimper of an episode.

One good line/moment: There were a handful of smirk/light chuckle-worthy moments. I did enjoy that Marge’s makeshift store was called “MURMUR.”

And so ends the momentous 30th season. Thankfully it seems like season 28 is still the absolute low point of the series thus far, with the two seasons following it seeming like the attempted scraping and clawing out of the deep, dark hole they’ve been plummeting down since the year 2000. It’s hard to really rank these seasons how little I enjoy any of this shit anymore, but I given season 30 a bit more credit over season 29 for containing a couple of interesting ideas and concepts that unfortunately were completely squandered (“Krusty the Clown,” “The Clown Stays in the Picture”) and for “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” an episode that wasn’t perfect, but I could at least feel like there was a ghost of a new, authentic voice behind it. As this season wraps up, The Simpsons is now officially a Disney property. They’ll be exclusively streaming on Disney+, airing on Freeform, and our favorite family’s faces will likely be plastered all over many a Disney corporate event. The show is still signed on for two more seasons, and at this point, I really don’t see any end in sight at this point. What else will Disney attempt to squeeze from this withered husk of a series? How long can the show possibly go? Tune in this fall for the soul-shriveling continuation of Me Blog Write Good! As usual, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you guys enjoy reading this thing, and as long as this show refuses to die, then neither will this goddamn stupid blog. Bring it on, season 31.

661. Woo-hoo Dunnit?

Original airdate: May 5, 2019

The premise: Someone has stolen Lisa’s stowed away college money, and on a very special Dateline: Springfield, the mystery becomes unraveled as to who committed the dirty deed.

The reaction: Format-bending episodes like these is a chance to delve into new, interesting territory you couldn’t get away with in the show proper. The last example of this, “22 For 30,” I recall being pretty decent, crafting a kiddie basketball scandal story that felt believable and was mostly engaging. Here… not so much. The big mystery here is that Lisa’s college fund, $650 stowed away in a cleanser can under the sink, has gone missing, and our Dateline narrator runs down the suspects and starts whittling them down to find who done it. It didn’t take me long to start getting tired. Honestly, who gives a shit about who stole the money? I mean, the episode is hyper-exaggerated on purpose, that this incredibly detail-oriented investigation is in the service of such a petty crime, but that kind of gag premise can only go on so long before it starts to wear thin. On top of all that, it becomes clear before halfway through the show that Marge is the one that stole the money. As the Dateline narrator starts to accuse each Simpson, we cut to Marge getting increasingly more and more indignant about them being scrutinized, until eventually she tosses the production crew out of the house. Yeah, no shit she’s the guilty party. In a very belabored scene, we discover she used the money to invest in a new product, little stick-on coasters that just attach to your cups (I think Karl Pilkington is entitled to some royalties for this idea…) She tearfully admits to Homer that she just wanted some excitement out of her life, and Homer, ready and raring to gloat to the kids that for once he didn’t fuck something up, feels bad and covers for her. They laid track for this reveal through the show in discussing Marge’s gambling past, and her adamant about the family using coasters on the nice table, but again, who really cares? Marge apparently bought a thousand of the little coasters, but that’s as much information as we’re given. Why did she buy so many? How did she try to sell them? Did she even try at all? Maybe she could have recouped her investment. But we never find out any of this. Marge wanting to get more out of life is a plot motivation the show’s been using since the beginning, none of this is anything noteworthy, apparently so given how throwaway this ending seems. Episodes like these seem particularly egregious in how absolutely disposable they are. This is a series with a rotating cast of at least sixty major secondary characters you can mine new stories out of, but instead, we get a show about who stole the money from the money jar? How unremarkable.

Three items of note:
– We discover Bart had stolen the money (then later returned it in full) to invest in his business of selling slime on the schoolyard. The bullies were in charge of production, and boy oh boy we get another loving Breaking Bad reference with the kids producing the slime in music video format just like the meth cooking sequences from the series. They don hazmat suits, the mixing/processing devices are similar, the slime initially is blue despite the final product being green (maybe they mixed the yellow in afterwards), we see the bullies taking a break to watch TV… am I supposed to be laughing yet? I’ve repeated this more times than I can count, but shit like this doesn’t count as a parody. There’s no subversion, no commentary, no purpose re-adaptation of the original source material. It’s just them doing their own version of a Breaking Bad cook scene, because they love the show. And at this point, the show’s been off the air for six years. How huge is their Breaking Bad boner after all this time?
– It took me a while to figure out why the table looks so strange in the above shot as we see it in a couple scenes. It looks extra short because we have rarely ever in thirty years seeing the Simpson kitchen seen the table without its blue tablecloth.   But also it looks like it’s placed right up against the counter instead of in the relative center of the kitchen. The framing just seems very weird… But why is the tablecloth inexplicably removed? Because they needed to have Marge get angry about rings on the table to set up the coaster reveal at the end. It couldn’t have been more obviously telegraphed from barely four minutes into the episode, hence my boredom waiting for the big reveal to finally rear its dreary head.
– Will Forte as King Toot makes a reappearance, scat singing a Dave Brubeck song for fifteen seconds. I love me some Will Forte, but man, what a waste of such a huge comedic talent. But what else is new…

One good line/moment: Ahhhhhhhh whatever.

660. D’oh Canada

Original airdate: April 28, 2019

The premise: After accidentally plunging down Niagara Falls, Lisa is granted sanction into Canada, and finds herself not wanting to leave such a seemingly perfect country.

The reaction: The Simpsons take on Canada (again), I guess. Moments after Lisa washes up on Canadian soil, she’s greeted by a modest mountie who says “eh” a lot, and is later given an IV drip of maple syrup. It’s like ticking the over-exhausted Canadian trope boxes. When Lisa goes on an angry diatribe over all the current US affairs that plague her eight-year-old mind, aforementioned mountie deems that since she feels unsafe in her own country, she’s now a Canadian refugee, and then “deports” her parents after protesting. It all feels very… dumb, but it doesn’t matter. Lisa of course is enthralled living in a nation that prioritizes education, the environment, and actually cares for its citizens (“I’ve never been happier!” she explains to the audience, helpfully). Eventually, Marge eventually sneaks her way across the border to get her daughter back. Of course, there’s no real emotional element to this at all. Lisa seems to not care at all about being away from the family, she adamantly demands to stay in Canada when Marge shows up. She lives with foster parents who I guess were assigned to her, but of course we don’t know anything else beyond that. Meanwhile, Marge is pissed when she comes to get Lisa (“Listen you little traitor, I’m your mother, and you live where I live! You’re coming home with me!”) Remember when Marge used to be nice to her children? Anyway, it turns out the two of them are stuck there since America is very anti-immigrant at the moment, but Lisa has a last minute change of heart about the good ol’ US of A because the episode is almost over. When she’s originally about to leave Canada, her new teacher helpfully walks by to let her know that there’s a lot of shitty parts about Canada too. It’s a fairly pedestrian theme the show could have utilized, how the grass always seems greener across the border or whatever, but of course the show doesn’t even bother. The show ends with the Simpsons running across a frozen river that’s cracking apart, but that doesn’t really matter as Homer’s able to cram in a joke about the Detroit Lions, and they get back into America and that’s it. Boy oh boy did I not miss this show.

Three items of note:
– On their trip up north, the Simpsons take a little trip through Upstate New York, where Homer sings a ballad to the wretched wasteland with revised lyrics to “New York, New York.” It’s basically a minute and a half long piece of filler in an episode that already felt super short (there’s an extended reused couch gag from years ago, and another thirty-second song later by Canadian Ralph). It’s full of references to Oriskany, Mohawk Valley Community College and the old Kodak factory… which I guess people from there will understand and think is funny? I don’t get it, are a bunch of writers from upstate New York and were just laughing their tits off writing this? It’s just more of acknowledging reference humor than actual jokes. It’s 90 seconds of just shitting on upstate New York. If the Simpsons drove through Central Jersey and sang a song about all the different landmarks and tropes of the area, I’d be perplexed more than anything,  even though I would get the references. And beyond that, of course, the song is completely meaningless. “Capital City” meant something. “New Orleans” from “Oh, Streetcar!” meant something. This song means nothing, except to get mentioned in a couple of local New York papers. Any press is good press, I guess.
– I’m pretty sure this is the first time in the show proper they’ve breached any sort of discussion about President Trump. In her rage against America, Lisa repeatedly tries to hurl obscenities about our very smart big boy President, only to be shushed by Marge. Later in her new classroom, she introduces herself thusly (“As an American, I’d like to apologize for something our President said about your wonderfully progressive Prime Minister.”) She is then ushered to another room where she’s able to Skype with Justin Trudeau (voiced by some guy), who proceeds to prove he’s not “weak” by lifting himself up on his desk and shimmying around. Jesus. It truly feels like a shitty SNL sketch where whoever playing Trudeau rips his shirt off and he’s ripped, and he’s like “Does THIS look weak to you, Mr. Trump?!” And the audience goes wild. Holy fuck, how embarrassing. The scene ends with Lisa alluding to the SNC-Lavalin scandal, causing Trudeau to get the fuck out. I guess this is their way of being impartial, but it felt like too little, too late after such a sorry display.
– Marge of course doesn’t give a flying fuck about her daughter’s unhappiness or disillusionment about America. When Lisa once again affirms she’s going to stay in Canada, Marge, with a big smirk on her face, tells her to look out across the lake at the United States and think of only the good. So Lisa does, and she imagines America’s all-stars: Abraham Lincoln flying on Dumbo (SWEET, SWEET DISNEY SYNERGY!!), Aretha Franklin, Judy Blume (voicing herself) and Louis Armstrong, who sways Lisa with just one line of dialogue (“Get your ass back over there!”) It’d be funny if it were intentionally awful, but I know it’s not. Speaking of Dumbo, I thought maybe I’d talk about the absolutely stupefying piece of synergy released a month ago during the promotion of Disney+, announcing the series would be available exclusively through the new streaming service. It’s just… I still don’t fully know how to express how I feel about it. It so desperately wants to seem like it’s biting the hand that feeds like they used to, referencing to Disney as their “new corporate overlords” (SEE! They referenced that line that’s a meme!!) and showing Rupert Murdoch’s portrait in a trash can (never mind the Murdochs are now majority shareholders in Disney), but it’s all so fucking phony. The Simpsons went from being counter-culture in the 90s, to just being culture in the 2000s, and now they’re just blank-faced corporate assets to be used however their new lords and masters at Disney will see fit. To paraphrase Troy McClure, who knows how much more soulless and creatively bereft The Simpsons will become between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?

One good line/moment: I got nothin’ here. This was a pretty bad one.