685. Undercover Burns

Original airdate: September 27, 2020

The premise: Discouraged when he discovers his employees don’t like him, Mr. Burns goes undercover in the plant as an average Joe named Fred thanks to a robotic body suit, and ends up reveling in his newfound friendship with Homer and his chums.

The reaction: Any episode featuring Mr. Burns actually caring about what normal people think about him is a non-starter for me. The man relishes in being in an elevated position from lowly commoners, barely treating them like fellow human beings. Despite that, I think it’s possible to craft a story that believably shows Burns appealing for actual human connection, but from “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” to this latest outing, these episodes ain’t it, chief. The inciting incident setting Burns off is finding unflattering graffiti of himself in the dirty men’s bathroom, which shocks him (“They hate me!” he gasps). To rectify this, he does what any normal person would do: don an expensive robotic suit and ingratiate himself within the plant, posing as normal employee Fred Kranepool. Homer, Lenny and Carl quickly take a liking to him, and Burns quickly finds himself swept up in the new sensation known as friendship. But as usual with this show, none of it actually feels impactful, the guys become best buddies with Fred because that needs to happen for the story to continue, not for anything he really does to connect with them. But I guess that’s not the point, it’s about Burns experiencing friendship for the first time, which we see mostly over a montage, and then through turning the plant into a worker’s paradise, with health benefits, lunchroom options and extraneous benefits abound, running the company at the brink of bankruptcy, much to Smithers’ chagrin. Like I said before, an episode where Burns learns to be a decent person might work in another context. Perhaps he hears that creating a more comfortable work environment leads to happier workers, leading to greater efficiency, so Burns becomes more personable and giving only because the plant will be more profitable, but then grapples with having actual human emotion for once. Instead, here Burns loses himself in his alter ego (“There is no Mr. Burns. Only Fred!“) and ends up having to battle with its fractured exoskeleton like out of a Terminator movie or something. It’s pretty darn stupid. In the end, Burns still laments, “Why can’t I be loved and feared?,” but I still just don’t buy it. Again, Burns wakes up with a smile on his face each and every morning because he’s in a position of ultimate power above the average man. It’s a core part of his character’s DNA, and if you’re going to tweak it, you need to give me a compelling motivation, not because he saw some scribblings on the bathroom stall that made him go cry cry. A sad whimper of a premiere.

Three items of note:
– Over the summer it was announced that the show would no longer use white actors to portray non-white characters, so here in the season premiere, we have our first replacement, Alex Désert as the new voice of Carl. It’s not perfect, but he definitely captures the basic essence of the character, and presumably will get even stronger as he makes more and more appearances. He’s as close as Grey Delisle is as the new Martin. I don’t really want to talk a whole bunch about the larger issue of performers voicing outside their own races, but just like the Apu “controversy,” this whole thing shines a strong light on this series being really out-of-place still being around in 2020. I’d see people making lists of characters needing to be recast, and they were either incredibly short or padded with characters we haven’t seen in over a decade. Of the hundred or so majority recurring characters on this series, maybe 7 of them are non-white? And that makes perfect sense, this is a show from the 1990s that’s still creaking and scraping along three decades later. I guess recasting is a nice gesture… I guess? But at this point, in season 32, really, what does it matter? Outside of maybe Apu, the other major POC characters are secondary at best, and they don’t appear all that often, would it matter that much if Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer just kept doing the voices? For brand new shows like Big Mouth or Central Park having main black characters voiced by white actors, I get the problem, but in this case, it feels a bit more pointless, just because The Simpsons is an ancient dinosaur that no one really cares about outside of the few diehard fans still clinging to this show until the end, and dopes like me that have blogs bitching and complaining about it.
– Speaking of voices, I got incredibly sad hearing Marge speak for the first time. Julie Kavner’s voice has been on the downward spiral, but she just sounds so grated and tired here. I don’t know if this is a result of her recording from home rather than a studio, or maybe it feels “worse” because I’ve been watching the first couple seasons of the show lately, but it’s just a real bummer to hear. Kavner turned 70 this year, she’s been an absolute trooper through this entire series, and I assume she’s still in pretty good shape for her age, but Marge really is sounding more and more like her mother each passing season.
– Mr. Burns finally breaks from his Fred character due to Lenny openly mocking and insulting Mr. Burns in front of him, but there’s two issues with this. First, in all the time they’ve all spent together paling around, there’s no way the guys haven’t shit talked the boss in front of their new “friend.” Second, this all happens after Burns has given the employees everything they’ve ever asked for and more, so Lenny and everyone else should be loving him at this point.

19 thoughts on “685. Undercover Burns

      1. Ah, what a shame. Maybe next season.

        I see you’ve brought back the “one good line/moment” section. Are you keeping it in case an episode happens to have a good bit?

      2. I actually forgot I stopped doing that. I’ll take it out, thanks for reminding me. If there’s anything noteworthy good in these episodes, I’ll mention it within the review.

      3. If it isn’t then let’s hope Season 33 is just all the Season 32 holdovers and concludes before 2022

      4. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been an official pick-up for a 33rd production season, so that’s the best case scenario for now. If Disney wanted to pick up more, they’d have to order sometime soon, and I’m pretty sure they will.

  1. What the fuck? This sounds a lot like an American Dad episode from 8 years ago, “Let Me Be Frank With You”, where Francine wears a man suit designed by Roger to pal around with Stan and his CIA buddies. That was a great episode with a dark, fantastic ending. This episode, on the other hand, sounds like shit.

  2. We’re finally here, Season 32. And with yet ANOTHER episode featuring Mr. Burns as a spineless, pathetic attention seeker. The sad part is, I feel that this premise has a lot of potential. I can think of plenty of reasons to make Burns go undercover as a regular employee work while being funny and staying true to his character. This is an episode that would be a lot better under capable hands like, I dunno, the Simpsons writing staff 25 years ago.

    I don’t know what an Alex Désert is, but it’s probably the most delicious name I’ve ever heard and now I’m craving ice cream.

    1. I know, right? Poor guy. Maybe an experience with the common man will save him. He’s never stooped to their level in the past.

  3. I’m prematurely responding as I haven’t read your review yet, but I actually didn’t even know the new season premiered either. I guess that explains why there was an article about who the new voice of Carl was the other day. I just don’t know if I even want to bother hearing characters that have been around for 30+ years have new voices suddenly. I gave some leeway to Martin and Nelson last season because the voice actress died and those episodes had already been produced, but this is just an insult. Why not make up a new black character and retire Carl?

      1. Sohr – You’re right, but honestly, I didn’t even realize it was the last Sunday in Sept. This year has been… well… you know.

        Bonkfast – Yeah, typo, but I couldn’t edit it.

        Shan – I don’t think there can ever been a premier as bad as Every Man’s Dream again.

  4. This episode is pretty boring but still miles better than the awful premiere that “Every Man’s Dream” was. So I guess I was pleasantly suprised.

  5. Of anyone is curious what the good moment section said before I pointed it out to Mike, it was “Nothing to be seen, really. It was a pretty limp premiere.”

    Part of me sort of wishes that Mike would keep the good moment section, if only because of the challenge it offers: finding the hay in the needle stack.

    Oh well. I still love to see him tear Zombie Simpsons apart.

  6. I do not think it matters how many people do or do not care about The Simpsons that would make it pointless to recast characters of color after 30 1/2 years, even though I can see and agree with why you think it is pointless to recast characters in a 30 year-old show. Besides, programs that run as long as South Park, Spongebob Squarepants or longer might always gain a new generation of an audience the same age as before if their viewership is so large they can make it that far. As long as certain characters are still in commission, better to recast 30 years late than to never do it at all. I for one, am very happy for the new jobs that Alex Desert, Eric Lopez and Arif Zahir got, regardless of how many people still watch The Simpsons or Family Guy. It may help them get noticed by any new casting directors who are watching those shows today.

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