Original airdate: February 23, 2020
The premise: Professor Frink enters the cryptocurrency space with “Frinkcoin,” making him a billionaire overnight. Aghast that he is no longer Springfield’s richest man, Mr. Burns seeks to overtake Frink’s wealth, while Frink tries to determine if his newfound friends aren’t just there to mooch off his fortune.
The reaction: Yet another episode that seemingly acts to shine a light on a secondary character, but reveals absolutely nothing new about them and barely even feels interested in doing so. An entire Frink episode could actually be something worthwhile, if it actually had something to say. But we do know what show we’re talking about, don’t we? Frink tells Lisa he’s developing his Frinkcoin, then we cut to Kent Brockman reporting on what looks like a press conference of Frink announcing the cryptocurrency… but I guess it’s not that, because Brockman then talks about how Frink’s a billionaire now. I know I’ve talked about the trope of Simpson-becomes-instant-success, but this is a new one: a character becoming a billionaire out of nowhere by the six minute mark. The main “emotional” thrust of the story is that money does not bring Frink happiness. Lisa urges him to indulge in the creature comforts he’d always dreamed of as a poorer man, but he’s still sad after that. Surmising companionship might raise his spirits, Homer is corralled into bringing Frink to Moe’s, leading to the barflies and other schlubs like Kirk and Gil to become Frink’s little posee. But Frink has no connection to these idiots. The point isn’t even that he’s enjoying being social despite the company he’s keeping, it all feels completely meaningless. When Mr. Burns tries to sew discord by telling Frink his new friends only hang out with him for his wealth, Frink replies, “Those guys are my best buddies! Fatso and Drunkie and the evil bartender!” And yeah, the others are quickly revealed to be moochers, but then we’re still supposed to care about Frink being sad and betrayed after the show expressly tells us he doesn’t care enough to remember their names? The ending revolves around a ridiculous conceit of Burns discovering an equation that will render all cryptocurrency worthless, and he leaves the dry erase board of it in the town square to wait for someone to solve it. The equation is finally solved by Frink himself, wanting to rid himself of his fortune, but his reasons for doing so are all explained by Lisa. That’s the whole episode, characters like Lisa, Homer and Mr. Burns maneuver Frink through the plot, pulling information out of him or summarizing the current situation and what he’s feeling on their own. Episodes highlighting Springfield’s less-covered citizens usually get ruined by the Simpson family shoving them out of the way and hogs the spotlight, but here, the episode is all about Frink, yet he barely seems to be in control at all. It’s weird. Like, there’s a way this could have been rewritten that it maybe… maybe could have worked with all the same plot beats, but I dunno. Rewriting season 31 Simpsons scripts? What a thankless job that would be.
Three items of note:
– Now, I’m a big dumb dummy, but I feel like I know the basic gist of what cryptocurrency is and how it works. But a quick info dump feels necessary for a show covering a topic like this. Frink helpfully shows a video hosted by “TV’s most beloved scientist” Jim Parsons, as he explains how the process works, combined with Schoolhouse Rock-esque animation to a parody of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” It feels like way too much information you don’t need to follow the simple plot, and of course none of it is funny. Parsons attempts to look cool by “jumping” a bike over multiple buses and dancing, holding up a sign reading “NOT A NERD.” Awful.
– Frink shares his office at Springfield University with a humanities professor who can’t stand him (hey, speaking of, this is the first we’ve seen Frink as an actual college professor, isn’t it? Maybe we can introduce that into the plot somehow? His love of education? How his students like his class? Anything? No?) But his presence annoys the piss out of her, and after Frink strikes it rich, we see he’s cleared out his side of the room and he’s gone, but she can still hear his nasal whistling (“I can still hear it! He’s in Chicago, for God’s sake!”) Later we see Frink has moved into a giant new mansion, which I assumed was in Chicago. Lisa stops by to see that he’s still sad, which I guess is weird, but we’ve seen characters just appear in random places with no explanation, so I didn’t give it much thought. But as the episode goes on, characters still refer to Frink as “the richest man in town,” and now that I look back through the episode, in the establishing shot of Frink’s new mansion, we can see Burns Manor in the background. So what the fuck was that lady on about saying Frink was in Chicago? I don’t understand it.
– The wraparound device of sorts is Lisa writing her report about the man who she admires most, Professor Frink. Over the show, they seemingly bond over not having friends, which I guess is supposed to set up the emotional payoff of Frink declaring Lisa his best friend. But it never, ever feels like it develops into something even close to anything emotionally resonant. It doesn’t help that the show also gets slightly meta in Lisa feeling jaded about thirty years worth of episode about her where she faces inevitable crushing disappointment by the end of each twenty minutes (“Every time I get a pony or make a friend, they get the hell out of town!”) Why not write this as simple as possible: Lisa and Frink bond over being social outcasts and lovers of science, Frink gets rich, starts living a lavish, superficial life, shutting Lisa out, until he realizes he’s hurt her, and gives up his life of luxury for the sake of her happiness. Cliche? Of course. But at least it’s actually about two characters and their connection to each other.
One good line/moment: Per usual, if I wait more than a couple hours between watching the show and writing a post about it, I have to struggle pinpointing anything I can recall liking. And that’s not a good sign. So let’s leave it at that.