675. Frinkcoin

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.

674. The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson

Original airdate: February 16, 2020

The premise: A new financial windfall in Springfield’s economy leads to the opening of a brand new STEM Academy. Lisa is initially thrilled to receive an accelerated education in the gifted class, but soon grows suspicious to the true motives behind the school’s operation.

The reaction: It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve had a “big topic” episode this vacuous. For an episode that is ostensibly supposed to be satirizing STEM education, job automation, the future job market, and so forth, the “takes” in this show, there’s very, very little in the way of actual commentary here. Springfield’s new STEM Academy is a technological wonderland where Bart is thrilled to indulge in VR simulations for the cosmetic rewards and achievements, while Lisa revels in being singled out for the gifted class, where she learns about… stuff. We’re never really shown what exactly her education is, save one mention of her at the dinner table talking about science, and computer science. Things start to unravel when Lisa discovers the rest of the children at the school are being trained to perform menial tasks for side hustles like ride sharing and food delivery. The big reveal is that the school is only gearing these kids up to get ready for a world of minimum wage, low-level jobs? That’s basically all that Springfield Elementary has been doing for over thirty years, so no new satire there. And at this point we’re almost to the end of the episode, and this is all we’ve gained so far. So much of the show is just repeating the same bullet points and throwing around buzz phrases like “gig economy” rather than actually build a purpose around them. Ultimately, the head of the academy consults the almighty algorithm regarding what viable careers the future holds, and they are shocked to find there’s only one job left that hasn’t been assumed by machines: elder care. And there’s the big punchline, I guess. Funny? The school is quickly destroyed, and the episode ends with Bart and Lisa feeling crestfallen by their hopeless future prospects. Actually, it really ends with future Bart and Lisa being abused by robot drink machines forcing them to pour their own sodas. What an absolutely pointless exercise.

Three items of note:
– The opening features an extended look at the life of Springfield’s resident grizzled old sea captain, Captain McAlister, starting with his past in discovering a Springfield treasure map with his future wife, transitioning forward forty years and his fruitless attempts to unearth the booty. This show has previously seen surprisingly success in highlighting the never-before-seen private life of secondary and tertiary characters in recent past, particularly Mr. Largo on more than one occasion. I wish I could say this was a similar situation, but the glimpses at McAlister as a character we get are either too fleeting (apologizing to his wife for not having children) or too meta (admitting he pretended to be a “flimsy, one-note character” to keep people off the scent of the treasure) to really be satisfying. Also they repeatedly use the Pirates of the Caribbean score, which gets annoying real fast, and distracts from any attempts to humanize this goofy side character. In the end, McAlister’s wife betrays him by tipping off Quimby about their find, and altering the border of the town so that he can claim the treasure. What is she getting out of this? Just a big fuck you to her awful husband? Ehhh, whatever. Outside the Town Hall meeting to discuss what to do with the town’s new ill-gotten gains, we see McAlister passed out drunk in a ditch. Happy ending? Might as well leave him there to die if this is the best they got for him.
– Marge is the one who proposes a new STEM school (I don’t mean to repeat this point so often, but Julie Kavner’s voice just sounds so, so tired here. I feel really bad…) and to drive her point home, she’s invited her friend John Legend to sing a not-funny song about it! And his wife Chrissy Teigen is here too, and they talk about her Instagram and stuff! I know it’s pointless to complain about random celebrity appearances at this stage, but it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen one this egregious, that Marge just randomly got two mega celebrities to come to Springfield on a whim to help her out. And what great jokes they have for them, talking about the launch party for their couple’s perfume and how Teigen posts pictures of her kids every fucking day. I don’t even follow her on Twitter and I see her posts all the time, how is that possible? Just completely awful and pointless, one of the worst instances of stunt-casting this show has done in a while.
– There’s a kind of B-plot where Homer is terrified that his and everyone else’s jobs at the power plant are going to be taken over by robots. But… I seem to remember an episode where that did happen. Season 23’s “Them, Robot” featured the entire staff getting replaced by automatons, leaving Homer the sole human employee left. I know it was eight years ago, but did everyone on staff just forget that this thing that Homer’s paranoid about happening and no one believes him… already happened? Homer’s main target of scorn is the break room’s new automated soda machine, and he tries to one-up it by pouring soda himself, and… fuck, it’s so boring and stupid. Even though he passes out in his attempts, he’s quickly revived and announces that everyone’s jobs are safe, and everyone cheers for some reason. Then we pan over and see Burns is unleashing new robot workers into the plant. And that’s the end. What the hell is this? Again, we already did that episode, and it was a piece of shit.

One good line/moment: Nothing to speak of here. Total snooze fest, this one.