663. The Winter Of Our Monetized Content

Original airdate: September 29, 2019

The premise: When an outlandish fight between Homer and Bart goes viral online, a social marketing-savvy hipster seeks to make them into profitable Internet celebrities. Meanwhile, Lisa fights back against the school’s new privatized detention system.

The reaction: Aaaaaaaand we’re back, and boy, what a low impact dud of a premiere. Not having watched this show in four months, coming back to it, it’s really surprising how thin the storytelling is. So with our A-story, Warburton Parker (voiced by John Mulaney) appears to basically narrate most of the episode in talking about how he can monetize Homer and Bart’s father-son fights online, after their original live video was watched and laughed at by everybody in the whole damn world (example #659 of a Simpson becoming an instant success/worldwide phenomenon overnight). So Homer and Bart are totally onboard with doing these fights… but why? For money? Warburton gives them a $5000 check at one point, but we’re never told how much cash they’re getting and what they’re doing with it. For the fame? They pay it some lip service, and we see Homer and Bart are both recognized by their peers, but they don’t seem to regard that all that much either. But amidst their videotaped brawls, the two find that they enjoy each other’s company, which ultimately gets them in trouble when Comic Book Guy leaks a video of them hugging. But these two incredibly brief bonding scenes barely even feel like they’re related to the story. This is an episode where in my head I’m already coming up with three or four different angles this story could take to actually work as a story, but instead, this just feels like an incredibly thin outline that they created scenes around and shoved through production. And honestly, I’m not making like I’m a super smart writer or anything, it just seems like obvious stuff they might do. Like where was Marge during all this? She could have been involved, chastising Homer and Bart for promoting violence and sewing discord in the family. Or maybe Homer and Bart’s renewed relationship would make their fighting seem less “authentic,” and Parker could start making lies or something to make them get at each other’s throats even more. That would have made him more of, like, a character, instead of some rando who just walked into the Simpsons’ backyard and wedged himself into their lives for fifteen minutes. Instead, there’s just no emotional element at all, Homer and Bart just waft through the story until the very end, when they decide that it’s stupid and they don’t want to fight anymore, and that’s the end. Boy, I can’t wait for twenty-or-so more episodes of gold like this!!

Three items of note:
– I don’t really have much to say about the B-plot. Lindsey Naegle comes in to run detention, having the kids make children’s license plates. The idea of privatizing detention and hand-waving child labor is potentially interesting, but of course the show does basically nothing with the idea. The resolution makes absolutely no sense; when the kids strike, Chalmers has the brilliant idea to replace them with the teachers, a group who “will do anything for money as long as it doesn’t involve kids.” So we see the faculty happily making license plates, and that’s the end of the story line (Ned Flanders is not present in the group, as it still seems the writing staff keeps forgetting and re-remembering they made him the new fourth grade teacher). But surely the teachers aren’t working for free after school hours? Naegle stressed she wanted “free” labor. But if this is during school hours, who’s watching the kids? Fuck me, I guess, for wanting this story to make sense and have some kind of coherent conclusion, right?
– The animation during Homer and Bart’s first fight stood out to me. It’s definitely more fluid than the standard fare for this show, which we’ve seen a bit more of since the production switched from Film Roman to Rough Draft (Rough Draft has worked with the show from the beginning, so I don’t know if they took over production in full, or are working with another American studio. I can’t seem to find a conclusive answer.) Anyway, it’s a welcome change to get scenes that have a bit more life in them, but watching this scene, while containing more drawings to make the movement more fluid, it all felt kind of floaty, mainly because there were no sharp, distinct poses to really ground the action. The show in its hey-day was a champion at really, really funny and expressive poses, but in the more rigid structure the show is created in now, we really don’t get much of that at all anymore.
– When Parker tells Homer and Bart they’ve gone viral, they excitedly do the flossing dance, accompanied by a chyron reading “DON’T SUE US, BACKPACK KID.” I believe last season they had a bit of Bart flossing, but honestly, at this point, this joke feels very, very tired. I think I talked about before how in this instantaneous meme-ing age, trying to do topical pop culture references on a TV show schedule is a complete fool’s errand, since everyone instantly makes fun of things as they happen immediately on social media. Parker also makes a joke about Homer and Bart getting more views than the Murphy Brown reboot, which is one hell of an obscure reference. I understand that the joke is that it came and went and no one remembers it, but fuck, that reboot ran last season, the company I work at created promotion for it, and I didn’t even remember it.
Speaking of references, the B-plot kicks off when Lisa is sent to detention, kicking off with a “Making a Misbehaver” opening title sequence, which mimics the open to the Netflix show Making a Murderer. I have not seen it, so to me, this sequence means absolutely nothing to me. For the hundredth time, recreating something from pop culture exactly does not count as a joke. I remember It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did an entire episode based off of Murderer, but it mocked the conventions of a documentary-style show and created a new narrative that fit and made sense within the world and its characters. Having never seen Murderer, the episode still worked for me because it fit into the show’s world and made jokes with and around the parody. Here, the “parody” means nothing to me, and to someone who has seen the show, I guess they just smile and nod because they get the reference?

One good line/moment: Nothing I can really recall. This one was a real snoozer. It’s gonna be a loooooong season.