681. Warrin’ Priests (Part One)

Original airdate: April 26, 2020

The premise: A new hip youth pastor, Bode, rolls into Springfield, quickly supplanting Reverend Lovejoy as the new town favorite man of God. Discouraged, Lovejoy travels to Bode’s hometown in Michigan to see what he can dig up about this mysterious stranger.

The reaction: Two-part episodes are certainly a rarity for this series. First we have the classic “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” saga, the brilliant mystery cliffhanger spoof. Over twenty years later, we got “The Great Phatsby,” a ridiculous affair involving Burns getting swindled by a famous rapper and his posse, or something stupid like that. Although, that episode aired in one night within an hour time slot, whereas our latest two-parter “Warrin’ Priests” is running as two separate shows. It’s difficult to discuss this episode and its story’s worth having only seen one part, so let’s table that discussion for now. This episode is also notable as it’s credited to comedian Pete Holmes, who I like fair enough. I’ve heard him as a guest star on a few podcasts I like (I have not listened to his own You Made It Weird show), and I enjoyed the first season of his HBO series Crashing, the semi-autographical series where he essentially plays a young version of himself, a good Christian boy who decides to become a stand-up comic. In this show, Holmes is also effectively playing himself as “Bode,” espousing what I assume are some form of his views and beliefs on God and religion. There are long stretches of the second half that are basically him sermonizing (in one case, a literal sermon), quickly winning the town over with his outlook on the world. However, for all his talking, his viewpoints appear to be incredibly simplistic: acceptance of everyone in all walks of life, and forgiveness for all, or something like that. All the dialogue feels incredibly rambling and off-the-cuff, so that was my best summation. How this connects to the people of Springfield? No way specifically. Bode’s first big win comes from playing guitar and singing a new arrangement of Amazing Grace, nothing really that exciting, but apparently enough for the black choir leader to bizarrely praise, “This is the most exciting thing that ever happened in a white church!!” Later, the people in the pews comment how they’re moved throughout the sermon and give Bode a three cheers at the end. But there’s no real specific connection between Bode and the people of Springfield, outside of him and Lisa bonding over meditation, which doesn’t really go anywhere. In terms of how Bode contrasts with Tim Lovejoy, we see within the opening where the few patrons of church can’t bolt out of Lovejoy’s Sunday mass fast enough. The dark dismal church Lovejoy presides over is later bathed in holy light when Bode takes charge. It’s all very simplistic, without delving much into these two characters and how they differ ideologically. Lovejoy is immediately irked by Bode and is antagonistic toward him, but for no real reason. It’s not like they butt heads on approach or outlook, so I guess it’s just Lovejoy being protective of his home turf. In the first half, we see him choking and struggling to talk at points, later proving to be his undoing at the start of mass, where he is unable to speak at all, leading Bode to take over and everything goes downhill from there. But Lovejoy speaks just fine after mass, and it’s never brought up again. I thought maybe it would lead to some kind of crisis for Lovejoy that would motivate him to rekindle his love of his job and win back his flock, but perhaps this plot thread will be picked up in part 2? The cliffhanger involves Lovejoy traveling to Bode’s hometown in Michigan and finding a damning article about him. Oh no, what scandalous information has been uncovered about this character we literally just met, know barely anything about, and who has no real connection or hold over any character we care about? STAY TUNED, EVERYONE!

Three items of note:
– I recall an episode a while back where a new reverend supplanted Lovejoy in popularity (“Pulprit Friction,”) but I don’t remember much about it. The more easily apparent analogue to this show is “In Marge We Trust,” where Marge as the Listen Lady quickly becomes the new church favorite. In that episode, we see how Marge actually listens to each person, lending a kind ear and giving honest advice, contrasted with Lovejoy, who has clearly checked out and can’t be bothered. We see them directly talk about these differences when we learn about Lovejoy’s past (“But you can’t let a few bad experiences sour you on helping people!” “Oh, sure I can!”) There are even scenes that feel like direct parallels; both episodes feature a scene outside of church where a crowd gathers around the new church favorite, ignoring Lovejoy. But “Trust” really shows how Lovejoy being ostracized has affected him, pleading his case with the saints on the stained glass windows and sequestering himself to the basement with his train set (“If the passengers will look to their right, you will see a sad man.”) The episode gives us just enough backstory and additional characterization to this tertiary character to truly make us care about him. In “Warrin’ Priests,” Lovejoy is just bitter and petty through most of the episode, just rude and condescending toward Bode the whole show, and it doesn’t look like that will change much in part 2.
– Lisa’s meditation session with Bode leads to a trippy out-of-body experience in a sorta neat animated sequence. Slowly the black outlines for all the characters and sets melts away, leaving Lisa a colored head floating in the vast emptiness of space. Her visage drifts and changes into different art styles, from a rough chalk drawing to a Picasso-esque design to a macaroni picture and so on. The scene is visually cool, but suffers from it not really amounting to anything character-wise, feeling more like time-filler than anything else. The scene is also kind of ruined with a fourth-wall-breaking joke partway through, where the different Lisas are interrupted with a “ANIMATION BUDGET EXCEEDED” title, which was odd considering the scene at that point was just the different still frame images floating in space, there was no real elaborate animation occurring.
– Before the teaser for part 2 and the credits, this episode barely clocks in at twenty minutes. Again, it’s hard to make a determination having not seen the second part, but I’m already wondering why this story needed to be told over two separate episodes. Considering the premise of “Lovejoy is replaced by a more engaging spiritual figure” has been done on at least two other occasions, stories that were told in single episodes that also had B-plots, I don’t really see how the story in “Part One” couldn’t have been told in under ten minutes. I guess you’d have to trim down Holmes’ rambling speeches, but what a tragedy that would be, huh?

680. The Incredible Lightness of Being a Baby

Original airdate: April 19, 2020

The premise: Mr. Burns forces Homer to go undercover to swindle Cletus out of his natural deposit of helium, but he finds it difficult to go through with it once he befriends the amiable hillbilly. Meanwhile, Marge arranges a play date for Maggie with her young love Hudson, but is quickly irritated by his trendy, overly safety-conscious mother.

The reaction: Well we’re back, with a whimper of an episode featuring two stories fighting for dominance, neither of which are particularly interesting. Firstly, when Homer brings some of Cletus’ fancy roadside balloons to work, Mr. Burns starts gunning for his helium reserves, using Homer as his man on the inside, or rather someone to pose as a seemingly innocent fellow yokel to gain Cletus’ trust. But, we see at first that Cletus offers the balloons to Homer to bring to work with him, so he must know that he’s not a fellow hillbilly. Is Homer pretending to be someone else or not? He’s putting on a Southern drawl and acting as such. But at this point in the series all these characters know each other, Homer and Cletus have had run-ins before… oh whatever. The two become fast friends and Homer ultimately comes clean with Cletus, who then eventually strikes a fair deal with Burns after he and his family have him at gunpoint. Pretty dull stuff. The other plot involves Maggie and her little boyfriend Hudson, as previously seen in the theatrical (for a week) short “Playdate with Destiny,” in the continuation of this relationship I’m sure everyone has been dying to see more of. Their cutesy antics were tiresome after a minute or so in the short, now we get more of them? Holding the plot up is Marge’s displeasure with the baby’s mother, a rich, trendy snob who insists on knowing Marge’s health records and sexual history, and babyproofs Maggie’s hair spikes. She ends up taking Maggie home, cutting off her relationship. She later gets into a conversation with the baby, trying to rationalize her decision, but it’s never like she’s just talking and trying to convince herself, she’s just literally trying to have a conversation with a one-year-old. It’s weird, and not intentionally so. I think. Eventually, Marge gets over herself and the two baby lovers reunite. Maggie carries Hudson across the threshold into their little backyard playhouse as “The Wedding March” plays, and I proceed to cringe ever so much. In “Playdate” and now this episode, this relationship of theirs is just so incredibly saccharine, the kind of thing this show would mock in its prime. The fact that they made this episode in tandem with “Playdate,” playing this up as the “sequel” that fans would excited for, to see more of the romantic adventures of Maggie and Hudson… it goes back to my question of the show’s present day audience. Who is watching this show, and why? What is The Simpsons to them? I feel like I should have some sort of idea, having watched all this crap, but I honestly and truly can’t give a straight answer to that.

Three items of note:
– At the beginning, we get another guest couch gag from animator Michal Socha, his third outing, this time presenting the Simpsons doing extreme sports. I’m not really sure why… He previously did that trippy sequence inside Homer’s mind all in red and black, which may be my favorite guest couch gag just from how cool the visuals are. After that, he did the IKEA-style “Build-Your-Own-Couch Gag,” which was okay, and now this, which looks kinda cool, but feels a bit empty and pointless. I dunno. I mean, as always, it’s more entertaining than the show itself, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
– As its theatrical life was sadly cut short thanks to the nightmare world we now live in, “Playdate with Destiny” recently followed its companion Onward onto Disney+. Having gotten a free trial of it recently, I always see the promo for it on the top banner opening it up, and boy oh boy is it still really, really difficult for me to wrap my mind around The Simpsons being a Disney property. I’ve been thinking a lot about the brand identity of Disney+ and how it’s really just a hodge podge of different disparate media elements that don’t go together, but it’s not exclusively Simpsons-related and I don’t really feel like yammering on about it. There are some who fear that Disney wants to soften The Simpsons to make them more family friendly, but I really don’t think that’s the case. But I do think they want the show to be presented as such, and that’s seemingly why it’s on Disney+, on top of being a huge feather in the streaming service’s cap to entice viewers with a humongous amount of content. The header image on the Simpsons page on Disney+ is Bart, Lisa and Maggie dead center having a fun time on the swings. The description includes this lovely nugget: “Homer is not your typical family man. He does his best to lead his family, but often finds that they are leading him.” What in the hell does that mean? Does that sound like The Simpsons to you? The content is as you remember it (aside from the aspect ratio being fucked and no “Stark Raving Dad,” there aren’t any episode-specific cuts that I’m aware of), but the veneer of the show has been sanitized a bit. It would be sad if the show hadn’t been ruining itself for the past twenty years… but it’s still a bit tough to see anyway.
– The episode cuts to credits eighteen and a half minutes in, so to kill time, we have Homer and Cletus singing a “””funny””” parody version of Queen’s “My Best Friend,” having a rootin’, tootin’, daggum blast of a time. I feel like there’s been a previous episode or two of Homer and Cletus being friends and hanging out, but I don’t care enough to look back into specifics. It’s all just so boring, they’re chums because they’re lazy and drink a lot… Speaking of, Cletus really is one of those one-dimensional joke characters the show occasionally tries to do more with, and it always lands with a thud. Like, maybe you could do something more with this character successfully, but you’d need a strong story hook to take Cletus out of his element and really examine another side of him. Instead, it’s all the same fucking jokes we’ve been doing for decades. He talks funny, he eats roadkill, Brandine’s giving birth to more kids, he drinks his blinding moonshine… boy howdy, the mileage they get off these REALLY GREAT JOKES!!