Season Ten Revisited (Part Four)

19. Mom and Pop Art

  • I like the few instances we see Ned Flanders actually getting annoyed, even angry; it certainly makes him feel more human. His stifled profanity getting hit by a can over Homer’s fence (“God… bless him!”) and his ending remark about Homer being in “heaven” (“I guess heaven’s easier to get into than Arizona State!”) are two great examples.
  • Homer’s meltdown attempting to build the grill is loud, obnoxious and over-the-top, much like a lot of his batshit crazy behavior of this era, but I still find myself enjoying it. I like how quickly it escalates, with all of the parts falling out of the box into the cement immediately and it only getting worse from there. I also love the specificity of Homer’s anguished cry, ”Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry?!” The only thing I dislike is the joke of Homer forcing his daughter to set the cement first, which feels unnecessarily cruel (and sadly, not the last time he’d do something like this.)
  • When Astrid arrives at the Simpson house, we’re treated to two jokes that make me feel bad. First, when Marge tells Homer someone’s at the door about a car accident, Homer whips out a shotgun and tells her and the kids to go out back. The most generous reading of this is that he’s going to brandish a gun to intimidate the poor schmuck who got their car totaled by his negligence, and that’s not a very good read. But later we see Marge and the kids poking their heads from the side of the house, with Marge piping up, “I got worried when I didn’t hear any shots.” So she was expecting her husband to shoot a stranger at their door then? Or at best, fire it into the air to scare them or something? There’s also the gag where Homer puts the loaded shotgun in Maggie’s crib at the foot of the stairs, so I guess Marge forgot to grab the baby before her insane husband answered the door with his gun. We also get this joke when Homer immediately breaks down (“Just go ahead and sue me! Everybody else does! The average settlement is $68,000!”) The idea of someone being involved in lawsuits so often they have an average settlement is kind of funny, but it’s another line that breaks the quickly crumbling illusion that Homer is just an average guy, not a wacky maniac who gets into law-breaking shenanigans weekly.
  • Homer being explicitly labeled an outsider artist definitely makes this “Homer-gets-a-job” episode much more palatable than most. His failed barbecue pit being embraced by the off-kilter art community for the visually bizarre and intriguing object it is makes much more sense than Homer becoming a bodyguard with no real ability or desire for being so.
  • I like that Bart is chomping at an entire wheel of cheese at the gallery opening.
  • I really love the bite about Burns passing on purchasing Picasso’s Guernica for a song (“Luckily that song was White Christmas and by holding onto it, I made billions!”)
  • Bart throws Homer into a rage by saying he felt a little attracted to Milhouse, which is a fair enough joke, whatever, but then a minute later he’s in the power plant shower room sketching a nude Lenny and Carl apparently just because he’s bi-curious? (“He’s just doing this for his art. Right, Homer?” “Yeah… art…”) So…?
  • Homer and Marge talking in bed near the end of act 2 is a really solid scene, where both characters express their feelings in meaningful ways, Marge with her jealousy of Homer succeeding at her childhood dreams of being an artist, and Homer saying how good it makes him feel that people actually appreciate his screw-ups. The latter makes him feel less of a rampant egotist as usually happens in a lot of “Homer-gets-a-job” shows, he knows he’s not a “real” artist but is embracing this opportunity nonetheless.
  • Moe attempting to shoot the shit with the Eurotrash is pretty great (“We are adrift in a sea of decadent luxury and  meaningless sex.” “Uh-huh …so where might this sea be located?”)
  • All the art history references in the third act are pretty well done, and definitely work on their own even if you don’t know the specific piece of work or the artist
  • I don’t know why, but Homer’s impassioned “Not the Reichstag!” always makes me laugh.
  • The ending is absolutely silly, no question, but it’s weirdly sweet in a way. I like how Homer took childish inspiration from the Joseph Turner painting of the Venetian canals and re-appropriated the idea in a ridiculous way. That the whole town would all embrace it and everything is fine at the end is a stretch, but whatever, I’m fine with an absurd fantasy ending as long as the road there felt satisfying.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Maybe my expectations have been lowered, but I didn’t find it to be a bad episode. Not very good though. The plot was tired, and there weren’t even any good gags to save it. I wasn’t groaning in agony, but I wasn’t laughing either. Boring!”

20. The Old Man and the “C” Student

  • Every Olympic season, I will invariably think of the “beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze” distinctions.
  • The sub-headline under Town Prepares for Olympics is pretty good (Pickpockets Call Up Reserves).
  • I really don’t get why they devoted so much time to the “Children Are Our Future” song. You get the joke after Skinner’s belabored intro (“And now, because the children our are future, here are the children or Springfield Elementary, with a song they call, ‘The Children Are Our Future.’ Children?”)
  • Skinner is absolutely 100% at fault for the Olympics debacle. Why in God’s name would he not only allow Bart to do his insulting routine, but interrupt the commissioner mere moments before he sealed the deal on his decision? It feels so bizarrely out-of-character. Skinner is revealed to be a member of MENSA in two episodes, how could he be this stupid? Later when we see him force Martin and Milhouse into dangerous community service and repeatedly punch Homer in the face for Bart “costing” the town the Olympics, it makes him feel like an even bigger dick. Motherfucker, that was your fault.
  • Springfield Retirement Castle never looked so good, and that’s a big problem. What used to be a decrepit dump run by a borderline criminally negligent staff whose only concern was milking these old geezers and their paying families dry, now we see not-Nurse Ratchet and volunteer Lisa vacuuming their clothes for crumbs and holding Imagination Time hour to make the old folks feel good. It just doesn’t feel like the same place.
  • The Springy subplot is pretty stupid, but acts as a fun distraction from the incredibly dull A-plot. And as absolutely ridiculous as it is, I still like how the two stories intersect at the end where Homer’s flushed springs save the drowning ship.
  • Going hand-in-hand with the retirement home’s depiction, the old people themselves are completely de-fanged this episode. No longer crotchety and bitter, now they’re a pathetic, easily manipulated hive mind acting upon either Bart or Lisa’s whims in this weird battle over the senior citizens’ “freedom.” It more or less kills the entire episode for me. Abe, Jasper and the rest are at their best when they’re filled with piss and vinegar. This is just piss.
  • “I want some taquitos” remains a very quotable line.
  • Jack LaLanne is such a strange guest spot. How relevant was he in the late 90s? And how do Bart and Lisa know who the hell he is? Who was responsible for this booking?
  • The “Hard Day’s Night” parody album cover under the end credits feels weird attached to this episode since it had nothing to do with The Beatles, but I guess they figured since they paid the rights for “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” they’d play it again over the credits and do that little parody artwork. And money well spent, used over a great montage of wheelchairs flying around skate ramps and Crazy Old Man and Jasper fencing at 1.5x speed. Pretty boring stuff.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:On the whole, I liked this episode. This episode had much to offer in the way of subtlety, and much to offer in characterization. Bart’s interests show once again that he is someone who seriously cares about people, and that he’s working to make a difference. The spring thing was kinda stupid, and a bit too cartoony for my tastes. We are, however, on the right track.

21. Monty Can’t Buy Me Love

  • The family walk opening feels so weirdly aimless. Like I get the point that it’s supposed to be boring, but it’s filled with weird lines like Marge writing poems about ducks and Homer suggesting they all ride dogs. What? The Fortune Megastore is also pretty bereft of jokes. We get a great scene where Lisa, an eight-year-old, makes a joke about Kevin Costner in The Postman, a joke that feels like it’s preserved in amber it feels so dated.
  • The bit about Burns daydreaming about how cool a talking banana would be is incredibly bizarre. So much of this first act is especially terrible humor-wise, I feel like John Swartzwelder didn’t write much of it.
  • So obviously this episode is patient zero for all the horrible Burns-wants-to-be-good episodes, the latest horrid example coming this latest season in “Burger Kings.” Like I said then, and for every other episode of this ilk, a story about Mr. Burns actually craving human acceptance could work, hell, it’s a promising idea, but it needs to be told in a believable fashion. Here, Burns feels sad that the townspeople and the media love some other billionaire more than him, and that’s it. “What’s it all worth when nobody likes you?” It’s just not enough. Honestly, the scene towards the end of “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” is a more than satisfying enough examination of this side of Burns, when a drunken Homer asks him if his money ever hugs him and tells him it loves him, and Burns sadly replies, “No, it doesn’t.” It’s a very honest moment, but what’s Burns’ takeaway at the end of it? He values his immense wealth and its power more than anything else (“What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?”) That’s the Mr. Burns we know and love.
  • Burns immediately enlists Homer to show him how to be beloved just because. Why not? He’s the main character so Mr. Burns obviously has to go to him. Though Homer is more a follower in this episode, this kind of feels like “Viva Ned Flanders” Part 2, where a side character gains Homer as a sidekick for no explicable reason.
  • Mr. Burns, Charles Montgomery Burns, writes a $200,000 check to a children’s hospital without a second thought. Just try and process that sentence for a moment.
  • I do like the cricket poison joke. I’m desperately trying to cling onto some positivity in this train wreck of an episode.
  • It’s not a very good scene for several reasons, but Michael McKean’s not-Howard Stern character is a pretty good caricature. The real Mr. Burns would have Johnny Rude executed on the spot for humiliating him, but part of me kind of likes his innocent childhood tale (“When I was six, my father took me on a picnic. That was a gay old time! Oh-ho, I ate my share of wieners that day.”) Also, “Won’t someone please stop the farting?!” is so wildly inappropriate for Burns that it’s funny to me.
  • In Scotland, Willie is there, of course, and Homer just casually addresses him by his first name when he asks about his family. What relationship could Homer possibly have with his kids’ school janitor? Yet another example of every character knowing every other character for no real reason.
  • The fucking Loch Ness monster… what more can I possibly say about this? They don’t even bother explaining how they apprehend the damn thing. It’s a humongous fucking monster and they somehow get it hitched up to a helicopter with not even a joke explanation. Nessie eats Burns… then they caught him? Then later he’s like a third of his size when he’s working at the casino. What a piece of shit.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:The best episode in some time. Great to see Burns being himself. In fact, great to see Burns period. The plot was wonderfully done, and got delightfully wacky during Act Three (especially the ending). The only bad part was the grotesque humor after Lenny got hit by a silver dollar. An 8/10.

22. They Saved Lisa’s Brain

  • The “How Low Will You Go” contest is a good enough set piece, definitely believable as a crass contest put on by the schmucks that run KBBL, and it serves as a good establishing contrast between the dullards of Springfield and MENSA. It starts to wear a bit as it goes (also Burns and Smithers are there as two halves of a horse costume for some reason), but the riot set to Planet of the Apes music was excellent.
  • I’m pretty partial to the excerpt of Lisa’s open letters, “I write this letter not to nag or whine, but to prod.” It feels like an innocent distillation of her activist tendencies, before she would slip further and further into her insufferable soapbox characterization.
  • Lovejoy’s Book Burning Mobile is a great gag, but I remember it best as a playable vehicle in The Simpsons: Road Rage. The endless hours I spent playing that game…
  • It’s not exactly clear why MENSA keeps itself secret from Lisa until she arrives, other than to build to a surprise reveal to create an ending for act one. They could have just mailed Lisa the letter, which one of them was standing in the Simpson backyard to throw the note as a paper airplane through her window?
  • The boudoir photography subplot, like Springy in “The Old Man and the ‘C’ Student,” is a dumb, but fun Homer B-plot that serves to mix things up tonally with the main story. The enduring disgust of the photographer (“Light is not your friend”) to the ending where Homer’s gift to his wife backfires in her interest in satin pillows over the general eroticism. A bit that stuck out to me was the final scene (“But I was gonna score!” “Oh, no, you weren’t.”) Marge seemed pretty into the photographs when she was looking at them, and the two have normally been shown to enjoy each other’s company, so it felt weirdly out-of-character to me, like for one line, Marge transformed into a typical TV housewife who denies sex from her big dumb husband for the sitcom audience to laugh at.
  • I always laugh at the ADR “Faster, you moron!” as we see Quimby ride on the horse to his plane for his getaway.
  • How MENSA ends up running the town feels a bit rushed, but the concept of these super nerds trying to improve conditions for the dullards they live with in their own way is a novel one, as is their petty bickering amongst themselves (with great moments from the likes of Comic Book Guy and Skinner, smugly taking jabs at each other). It doesn’t feel like it all comes together in the best way, and I accept the episode for what it is, but it definitely seems like a story that could have been a slam dunk if it were done a couple seasons earlier.
  • Stephen Hawking (who gets introduced with everyone announcing his name, which is becoming a new annoying pattern) is a pretty damn good guest, harkening back to how celebrities used to be either ridiculed or depicted as assholes for no real reason. He’s definitely the latter, suckerpunching Skinner and openly being contemptious to everyone else he deems less intelligent (“Don’t feel bad, Lisa. Sometimes, the smartest of us can be the most childish.” “Even you?” “No. Not me. Never.”) One line sticks in my craw a bit though, at the very end when he and Homer are at Moe’s, and Homer says, “Wow, I can’t believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me.” That kind of feels like a line you could put into dozens of future episodes where Homer is randomly hanging out with a big name celebrity that he would have little knowledge or care of who they are.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “There’s too much one-dimensional characterization and too many liberties taken with realism here. Intellect is given too much of a shallow treatment with this episode for its story to be likeable, and its efforts are undermined by mostly idiotic gags. It’s a bright milestone for Simpsons to celebrate to have someone as intellectually renowned as Stephen Hawking on the show, but it still doesn’t save the episode from having little impact for me.”

23. Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo

  • The Java Cafe opening feels like such a funny time capsule to the days of the early Internet. It’s also the early stages of me feeling awkward about the show entering the “modern” age with characters starting to use computers, which would soon be followed by smartphones, tablets, earbuds, etc. I also don’t know how good I feel about Lisa, an eight-year-old, referring to the Internet as “more than just a global pornography network.”
  • Speaking of a time capsule, Snake steals Homer’s life savings with a floppy disk! Remember when you could only store like 128MB at a time on those things? 
  • I don’t care for Homer burglarizing the Flanderses (on multiple occasions, as Ned points out), but I do like that Homer still expresses his series-long envy at the seemingly better lives of his neighbors (“It’s just that you and Maude live like royalty in your fancy castle while I’ve got Marge trapped over there like a pig in a mud beehive.”)
  • Between Wiggum scoffing at “she-males” in the last episode and the crowd’s disgusted reaction to Chuck Garabedean revealing the beautiful women in his photo used to be men, this is like a one-two transphobic punch. But there have been jokes that have aged much poorer than these, many of which are coming up in seasons to come, seasons that I thankfully won’t be watching.
  • Lots of great background products at the 33-cent store (Cool Ranch Soda, Onions?), including Skittlebrau, the soda Homer seemingly didn’t make up from “Bart Star.”
  • Whenever someone says that I “could have” done something, my knee jerk response to them is always, “A little late for could’ves”
  • “You liked Rashomon!” “Yeah, that’s not how I remember it” is one of those jokes that I never got until like my twentieth time watching.
  • Watching this episode is only making me want to go to Japan even more. Originally my wife and I planned to go last year for our delayed honeymoon, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. But when we finally go, America Town is first on my list. Though considering it doesn’t exist, I guess the closest would be to go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo and that robot restaurant and blend the two memories together.
  • Homer just assaults the Emperor of Japan and nothing happens. They put him and Bart in jail but then are just let out after Marge pays their bail. He attacked their head of state! The episode where they go to England and Homer rear ends the Queen’s carriage, the entire third act is his trial, but here, it just doesn’t matter. And boy does it not feel good to compare this episode I genuinely enjoy to that piece of crap.
  • George Takei is the MVP of the third act as Wink, just absolutely killing every single line. His role as Akira way back in season 2 didn’t give him much to work with, but he’s just splendid here.
  • Where exactly is this enormous fake volcano? How much does it cost to heat up all that orange soda close to boiling? Wouldn’t the Simpsons be able to tell the difference between the smell of lava and soda? And on top of all that, it’s really an incredible cheat to milk the suspense as much as they did, with each family member running across the bridge and the audience chanting for them to plummet. Like yeah, of course they’re not all going to die, so it feels like overkill creating this elaborate volcano set piece for a payoff that’s not bad, but maybe not worth all that effort.
  • Thinking about how ridiculous the volcano thing is kind of softens any annoyance I have about Godzilla and the other monsters showing up at the end. Yeah, it’s just a dumb gag versus the entire third act with Loch Ness in “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love,” but it feels like a cheap ending to an otherwise mostly enjoyable show.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “With this episode, the last bit of life is sucked out of ‘The Simpsons.’ The jokes are not clever but cartoonish and/or sitcom-ish — completely un-Simpsonlike. (What the hell was with that ‘squeeze the penny’ into the arm bit, to cite one example out of a sea to choose for?) Homer, as he was throughout the season, was not himself — though he wasn’t cruel this time, it’s nonetheless like watching a completely different character — an unlikable, way exaggerated cheap imitation of Homer with no depth to his character. The Homer from the earlier seasons was likeable — we could identify with him; this one is too shallow a character to be likeable. The plot and gags were typical of ‘wild cartoon goofiness’ rather than the puncturing intelligent humor found in seasons 1-8.”

Season 10 episodes I would actually help out of a burning bus: “Lard of the Dance,” “Treehouse of Horror IX,” “Lisa Gets an ‘A,'” “Maximum Homerdrive,” “Mom and Pop Art,” “They Saved Lisa’s Brain,” “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo”

Season Ten Revisited (Part Three)

13. Homer to the Max

  • The midseason TV opening is pretty good, with Homer’s blind excitement over what will undeniably be a night of great television (with his ranking chart of “Excellent Shows” and “Really Good Shows.”) Lisa’s comment about midseason being “a dumping ground for second-rate shows” may be mostly correct, but it feels especially mean given that Futurama would premiere mid-season just a month after this aired.
  • “Police Cops” is great dumb TV, with its random explosions, “Homer Simpson” catching the crook’s bullet and throwing it back at him (followed by him ordering, “Arrest that guy!”) and the ending text revealing the blood used being provided by the Red Cross (Donate Blood Today!)
  • I really like the idea of Homer being admired solely for having a cool character on TV having the same name as him. It definitely feels true to Springfield’s small town nature that Homer’s bar buddies would be especially impressed by something like that. I do not like the opening bit where Homer is too stupid to realize that it’s not actually him on TV (“Did you see the way Daddy caught that bullet?”)
  • There’s a bit too much literal dialogue of characters plainly explaining the mechanics of television, from Lenny’s “Looks like they changed the character into a bumbling sidekick!” to Lisa explaining how TV pilots work. This feels like the early stages of the over-explaining dialogue creeping in.
  • Moe and the other barflies cheering Homer for his cool-by-association name I can buy, but Homer the town-wide pariah after “Homer Simpson” becomes a bumbling buffoon is another. Why would everybody in town, including actual celebrity Krusty, publicly hound Homer because of this? Even putting aside that “Police Cops” is apparently this monster hit two episodes in that everybody in town has seen, are they all as dumb as Homer in thinking that he’s literally the same character? And yes, “Homer Simpson” is a moron just like our Homer, but that’s not even part of it. It feels like this could have been a weird meta episode where Homer is upset about his TV doppelganger’s exaggerated portrayal. I don’t know where they could have gone with it, but it could have been interesting.
  • Pretty good visual summation of the past year.
  • Homer not only flies to Hollywood for just one scene, but manages to get a meeting with seven producers to express his grievances. Absurdity of the set-up aside, their explanation about their dumbass ideas is great, from their original idea (“The thirteen of us began with a singular vision: Titanic meets Frasier”) and its evolution into “Badge Patrol” (“The network idiots didn’t want a show about high-tech badges that shoot laser beams!”)
  • It’s a bit over half the running time that Homer actually changes his name, making the episode really feel like two stories crammed together. “Homer vs. TV” wasn’t perfect, but definitely felt like it could have been expanded and smoothed out into a full-length, competently told story. But I really don’t know what to make of the Max Power story. I guess it’s supposed to be Homer reinventing himself, but he just kind of falls into the “friendship” of a charming upperclassmen, and that causes Homer to get excited about rubbing elbows with “Springfield’s young, hip power couples,” for some fucking reason.
  • I said last time it was the last Dankmus, but “strap yourself in and feel the G’s” reminded me there’s actually one more fantastic one.
  • My favorite joke in act three is Homer’s innocent admission he got the idea of “Max Power” off a hairdryer. That line alone makes me wish it belonged to a better episode.
  • A fatal flaw of the third act is the very existence of Trent Steele and his rich, young and hip associates residing in Springfield. Springfield had always been a small nothing of a town, with Mr. Burns being a sole heartless plutocrat throttling the throat of a poorer city, with the other “elites” being the likes of Evelyn and her friends from “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield,” born-and-raised Springfieldians with a little more extra income they can flaunt in others’ faces. Meanwhile, Trent Steele lives on a lavish estate, holding garden parties attended by Hollywood celebrities and the fucking President. What business is he in? What the hell are he and the others doing in a jerkwater berg like Springfield? This feels like the first warning sign of Springfield slowly becoming whatever the show needs it to be, which more often than not is Los Angeles, Jr. so the writers could make relatable SoCal jokes.
  • The ending just sucks so much. Homer and Marge getting swept up in the whole environmentalist cause was a left field plot turn in an entire left field third act, but then the chain sawing through the entire giant redwood within a minute or two and knocking down the whole goddamn forest like dominoes… fuck.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Pure crap. If there is a season next year, I will not watch it. The writing was pathetic, the jokes were all repeated, and the Clinton joke was simply terrible. Please, please, please, please end the Simpsons now.”

14. I’m With Cupid

  • Bart’s last minute digestive system project serves the necessary plot function of establishing Apu’s never-ending work schedule and setting up the dinner date, but there’s not really anything clever or funny about it. Nelson makes it explode on the bus, and that’s basically it. It feels like a first act set piece that would have at least seven or eight solid jokes just a few seasons ago.
  • A season after her introduction, we get our second look at Manjula (it can be argued that it’s really her first look since she only appeared in the last two minutes of her last episode.) There’s not really much to her character, which to be fair, in this plotline, she’s just supposed to be the disappointed wife. It’s just weird considering they bothered to marry off a significant secondary character, they didn’t even think to examine how his life would change or what his partner would be like. One season later, they decided to give him eight kids, and since then, we’ve learned next to nothing more about Manjulia or the octuplets except that they make Apu more exhausted because having a wife and kids sure is hell, amirite, folks?! Even though putting a magnifying lens up to Apu’s sworn allegiance to the Kwik-E-Mart kind of sours the joke of it, an episode actually about Apu’s rivaling love between his work and his wife might actually be interesting, but instead, we got a painfully generic Valentine’s plot that tells us nothing about the couple themselves, but ends up mostly being hijacked by wacky Homer shenanigans. You know, just like last time! 
  • A very funny touch to see Surly Duff in a hot rod on the Duff calendar. A very romantic picture for February.
  • The best scene in the episode is the brief glimpse at Chief Wiggum’s love life: him talking about how Sarah is usually all over him after he reads a couple of tasteless jokes is pretty adorable, quickly followed by his pathetic plea to his wife about how expensive Viagra is. How exactly did I learn more about Chief Wiggum’s marriage in a ten second scene than Apu’s in an episode ostensibly all about his?
  • Homer riles up the other husbands at Moe’s, which of course consists of familiar faces like Dr. Hibbert and Ned Flanders, for some reason. Why doesn’t he bust out the ol’ heart costume and croon for Maude like the good old days? Also Moe goes along for the ride, because why not. Once more, we’re just plugging in our regular characters whenever possible, regardless of the situation, which ultimately makes the once sprawling town of Springfield feel much smaller.
  • Elton John doesn’t have much to do, but he’s not bad. I like his incredibly touched response to Moe’s bullshit made-up compliment about teaching them to love again (“Really? I did that?”) and how instantly annoyed Apu gets at him referencing his songs. It’s actually even funnier given in the recent episode “Uncut Femmes,” Bob Seger’s guest appearance was just a series of him quoting his song titles, and that was supposed to be the joke. Season 10 is where the free fall for this series really starts, but we’re nowhere near the bottom yet.
  • A big problem for me in this show is Homer is basically a raging jackass for most of the running time. Then we get to him beating up a pilot in mid-flight, dangling off the plane, flying through rose bushes… I guess when they watched that sequence back, they were just laughing their asses off? Despite ignoring Marge through the entire episode, he is completely redeemed by the end via complete coincidence, and it sucks. We love Homer because despite his ignorance and occasional selfishness, he genuinely cares and tries to do the right thing if pressed. Here, he doesn’t do a damn thing.
  • Sarah cutting Ralph’s hair on the front lawn is really cute, as is Pamela Hayden’s sweet little laugh after she reads the skywriting blob in the air as “Poppin’ Fresh,” Clancy’s pet name for her. This may be the most we saw of Sarah Wiggum before “Uncut Femmes,” but you know what, I’ll take “sweet housewife in love with her big dumb husband” over “retired girlboss jewel thief who fell in love with her mark” any fucking day.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Like always these days, Home-boy owned this episode, yet some good support was brought from other residents of Springfield. This ep had a few humorous laughs, a nice(tacked on) cameo, and a good focus on Apu and Manjula. The problem was, though, that Homer acted too much like he usually does in this season: a jerk. And that is never a good thing.”

15. Marge Simpson in “Screaming Yellow Honkers”

  • “That’s Edu-tainment” doesn’t work whatsoever. The teachers and staff of Springfield Elementary can’t fucking wait to bolt out of school at last bell, why are they holding an elaborate live comedy show? Even if it was a fundraising effort, it would be a big stretch, but there’s no mention of anything like that. The opening really could have been anything, they just needed a set piece of a traffic jam of people trying to leave, leading Homer to see the Canyonero (driven by Krusty, who was inexplicably attending a school event.) The only bit I liked was Chalmers seething with anger at Skinner blowing the “Who’s On First” routine, muttering about the “sexless freak” while storming off stage.
  • “I hate to change lanes once I get going. That’s really for race car drivers.” “As soon as I get over, that lane will stop moving. Erma Bombeck said so, and Dave Barry agrees.” I’m a pretty overly cautious driver, so I feel somewhat embarrassed that I found these lines very relatable.
  • Gil definitely feels like he’s starting to wear out his welcome. It’s not easy shaking him up when it’s basically the same schtick every time with him.
  • An episode actually about Marge’s unaddressed pent up anger being channelled through road rage might have been interesting. She’s definitely a woman with a lot of locked away frustration, but very few episodes actually deal with it. I remember the third act of season 14’s “Brake My Wife, Please” introduced that plot angle randomly with Marge unconsciously trying to maim Homer, and it was really stupid. Here, Marge starts driving the Canyonero and just randomly starts raging, then anger management cures her, then she gets angry again, feels remorseful that her license is revoked, then is angry one last time to save the day. It’s not so much plot progression as a random character trait being switched on and off as needed.
  • The anger management class is easily the best part of the episode: Wiggum’s speech about breaking the class down and building them back up (if time permits), Eddie getting savaged as Curtis E. Bear, and the Road Rage filmstrip, which is a pretty perfect piece on its own (“Anger is what makes America great. But you must find a proper outlet for your rage. Fire a weapon at your television screen, pick a fight with someone weaker than you, or write a threatening letter to a celebrity. So when you go out for a drive, remember to leave your murderous anger where it belongs: at home.”)
  • Mike Scully, his wife/show producer and writer Julie Thacker and their five daughters make an appearance running out of the wildlife sanctuary. Switching to the commentary for this part, Mike Scully laughed, “Take that, No Homers!” I don’t know if people actually complained (or even knew about this) at the time, but it feels weirdly vindictive. I dunno, I guess it’s fine, you’re the boss, you can put your family members into the show as cameos if you want, why not (his kids also make a noticeable appearance in “Simpsons Bible Stories.”) It just feels kind of lame and cheap to me as a viewer though. We previously saw cameos of the writing staff as the much abused and beleaguered writer’s room of Itchy & Scratchy, which actually feels appropriate, but stuff like this feels like when somebody’s niece gets to be a featured extra in a movie because their parents are friends with the studio head or something.
  • The fucking rhino ending is so bad. It’s bad enough that it’s unintentionally caused by Homer being a dick, but it’s just so cartoonishly absurd, and it just goes on for so long, where Homer and the kids are trapped, then the last rhino takes Homer through the town, then he’s stuck in the porta-john… all completely boring and laugh-free.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Well, this was pleasantly surprising … It’s rare these days when they can make a good episode about Marge. Can’t really say I liked the overall wackiness of the rhino scenes but the first two acts were a treat. For a late-season Simpsons episode, this is about as enjoyable as they come. The Simpsons to me is a shadow of it’s former self these past couple of seasons, but it can still be quite entertaining once in awhile.

16. Make Room For Lisa

  • Bill & Marty’s lame “Men Without Jobs” crack followed by them obnoxiously laughing is pretty good.
  • The OmniTouch stuff at the beginning is pretty solid, with the representative outlining America’s priorities (“Anti-tobacco programs, pro-tobacco programs, killing wild donkeys, and Israel.”) The corporate sponsorship/possession of historical treasures concept is also interesting, but doesn’t really go anyway beyond the opening.
  • I’m sure I bitched enough about how awful it is that Homer just completely gutted Lisa’s room. Where did all her stuff go? Why didn’t they put all that stuff in Maggie’s room? Why does Marge seem to not give a shit? The whole thing is pretty much forgotten partway into act two, so it really could have been any slight of Homer’s to alienate Lisa to kick this story off.
  • Homer spends half the episode acting as a fucking asshole to Lisa to the point that she becomes physically ill with stress, and it really sucks. I get that it’s establishing how diametrically opposite they are, contrasting Lisa doing homework with “When Animals Attack Magicians,” but Homer just comes off so, so bad here. His inability to connect with Lisa in the past came off as awkward, and at worse ignorantly dismissive, but here it’s just moment after moment of him aggressively ignoring Lisa’s pleas, and all of this after completely destroying her room.
  • The baby monitor subplot is just boring time filler. I guess instead of helping her daughter out in any way, Marge decides to revel in town gossip. I do like Agnes being upset about Skinner driving through tunnels (“I know what they represent!”)
  • Not a fan of Homer dismissing new age medicine as “touchy-queery crap.” I know he’s a latent homophobe, but it feels a little gross.
  • The wild adventures of Homer in the tube goes on for so fucking long. Even this episode needs a lengthy action sequence? There’s little to no jokes in these scenes, it’s not exciting or interesting, why were there so many of these in the Scully years?
  • The moving men are easily the strongest part of the episode: their gruff rebuttal to the new age shop owner (“Channel somebody who gives a damn!”), the two of them arduously trying to lift the heavy deprivation tube with Homer in it (“Ah, screw it, I got health insurance!”), and the one guy teasing the other with the crystal while driving (“Your baby will be a girl!” “Shut up!”)
  • Homer has it even easier here than the ending of “I’m With Cupid,” where he re-enters Marge’s good graces by complete accident. Here, he doesn’t have to do a damn thing, Lisa forgives him after seeing things from his perspective in the deprivation tube. Lisa even blames herself for her frayed relationship with her father (“I can really be a pain in the butt.”) I mean, we never saw Lisa be irrationally angry at Homer in this episode, despite all the truly terrible things he said and did, nor have we ever seen her be that sternly direct to Homer as she was in her dream sequence. It’s very strange, and feels completely unsatisfying. On the commentary, Mike Scully and company joke about the message of the episode being kids seeing things from their parent’s perspective (“We do our best, kids!”) With this episode being written by Brian Scully, could this script have been born out of grievance about all the things they were dragged to by their kids, with having Homer be their surrogate and Lisa apologizing to them? I mean, it’s not a bad idea, but it feels like too big of a burden that an eight-year-old should be that compromising of their fragile, idiotic manchild of a father, especially after, again, he completely destroyed her room for no reason and it never being brought up again. Fuck this episode.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “An excellent episode about learning to compromise, taking family for granted, and character growth. A month after I lost all hope in the series, they come at me with this. I pray that this trend continues. ‘Make Room for Lisa’ is easily the best episode so far with Mike Scully as executive producer.”

17. Maximum Homerdrive

  • I appreciate Lisa’s more restrained outrage in the opening about The Slaughterhouse (“Lousy meat-eating scum! …not you!” is a good line.) Her being upset about the cartoonishly brutal practices of the new restaurant feels appropriate, and it’s also great how she’s just not present when the family goes there, that you can fill in that gap of her refusing to go yourself as a viewer with moderate intelligence paying attention to what they’re watching, something that doesn’t really happen anymore. This Lisa stands in great contrast with the recent episode where she tricks everyone into eating mushroom tacos and then feels personally attacked when she finds meat was added to it.
  • The Slaughterhouse is honestly a pretty great set piece, with its incredibly graphic neon sign and the pounded flat chicken menu (“The kid’s menu is on the beak!”) Even though it makes little sense for him to be there, I like Mr. Burns’ dissatisfaction that the original steer he chose to kill “didn’t put up much of a fight. Homer entering an eating contest and becoming horrified at actually becoming full is a great concept as well, as is Dr. Hibbert turning a blind eye to any wrongdoings of a restaurant he owns 12% share in (“Looks to me like beef poisoning… probably from some other restaurant.”)
  • The end of act one where Homer takes up the job of trucker feels like a self-parody of these wacky “Homer-gets-a-job” episodes, which on one hand I can somewhat admire the transparency of, but on the other, it feels pretty shocking that they are this referential about it so quickly. Pointing out shoddy writing doesn’t excuse it, of course, as I’ve screamed and ranted about over and over on this blog, but there’s some level of innocence to it in this early episode that I can’t quite place exactly why.
  • The Red Rascal decal on the truck is a great design, with the Tex Avery wolf and Confederate babe.

  • Marge and Lisa’s doorbell escapades is definitely a much better follow-up than their stupid egg-scapdes in “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday.” Marge considering doorbell shopping to be a walk on the wild side, then wanting the first ring to be organic all feels appropriate, and lends itself to some funny scenes, like the Jehovah’s witnesses having a change of heart moments from ringing (“Let’s go get real jobs,”) to Marge’s conservative Luigi’s order of half an order of garlic bread just to get him to the house. It’s not amazing material, but still enjoyable.
  • The scene of Homer and Bart at the diner (which I think is a syndication cut) is so bizarre, with Homer waxing on about divorcing Marge to live the trucker life. It’s this weird thing where you’re not sure whether Homer is fantasizing or if he’s serious and believes he can be a real trucker… it’s difficult to tell with these kinds of episodes because Homer has no real motivation for any of his new occupations, so anything he says and does ultimately feels pointless.
  • The auto-driver third act twist isn’t a bad idea (“All you gotta do is sit back and feel your ass grow!”) but then Homer just lays out on the hood of the car and blabs about it to strangers for no real reason just so we can manufacture a conflict to close the episode on. Then he flips his big rig multiple times over an entire convoy because who gives a shit about writing things that make sense, right?
  • The ass-pull appearance of the train to get Homer and Bart back to Springfield is another clear example of the self-awareness of this nonsense (“Are you crazy?  I’m not driving a trainload of napalm to Springfield!”) But you know what, I laughed. This episode isn’t any less dumb than a lot of season 10, but for some reason I have some fondness for it. Maybe the acknowledgement of its goofiness makes it easier to swallow, especially in the early stages of the show turning into wet garbage, but I give this episode a pass.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Typical of later-season Swartzwelder material in that the humor was lacking but we got to see some nice Homer-Bart bonding, which was about the only thing really redeeming about it. Not much to laugh at; they can’t seem to progress beyond the most obvious gag anymore, and it’s very very sad. This ‘Homer gets into some crazy crazy job’ was getting tiresome last season and yet it’s still being rehashed over and over. The subplot with the whole doorbell thing was a snooze. Even Futurama was disappointing – has Groening lost his touch completely? Half-grade deduction for using a Spice Girls song – SHAME ON YOU STAFF!

18. Simpsons Bible Stories

  • Ah, the very first, and certainly not the last, trilogy episode. I’ve bitched about this before, but I really don’t like these episodes, nor do I like fantasy episodes of any other series. When you’re retelling a known story with your protagonists, there’s no interest from me as a viewer because it feels just like going through the motions of an established narrative, which is not why I tune into what was once an original and creative comedy program. Treehouse of Horrors are different because they’re stories that still exist within the reality of Springfield (at least in the classic era) and experiment more with tone than the other trilogy shows. 
  • “Christ Dyed Eggs For Your Sins” is a damn solid church marquee joke, definitely in the top 3.
  • I don’t know if I ever caught this, but Bart’s “Bush set me up!” complaining about the burning bush ratting him out is definitely a reference to the immortal words of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s famous words after getting busted smoking crack with a hooker, “Bitch set me up!” Making such a crude reference in a Biblical story definitely deserves some degree of props.
  • I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in the original review, but Milhouse/Moses commanding his people to flush the toilets to empty the Red Sea feels like something they would have done in the Rugrats Chanukah special or something. That’s maybe not the best comparison to make for a show like this.
  • Homer’s People’s Court dream is the best one, with the twist on the King Solomon tale and Jesus taking the stand (his “My Accident” folder always makes me laugh.) I think it’s my favorite because it’s like a minute long, you get the joke about the story and you move on.
  • Bart’s David vs. Goliath dream being somewhat structured like an action movie, with its revenge story and training montage, definitely makes it feel more distinct, like what you’d normally get from a Treehouse of Horror. I also like that it feels like something Bart might actually be dreaming about, a Biblical story filtered through his perspective. If all the trilogy stories were done with this distinct point-of-view storytelling device, they might be more interesting (Bob’s Burgers does its trilogy stories this way, with the stories being told by one character in their own unique way.)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I’m not one of those Old Testament-thumping fundamentalists, but come on! MILHOUSE AS MOSES? What better way to insult the Jewish people in the middle of Passover than to have the Red Sea part by flushing a bunch of ancient Egyptian port-a-potties? Were the writers looking for a way to shock people? Mission accomplished. As for the Adam and Eve story, it started out kind of cute, but after the apple business it all went downhill. Watching this episode was like LIVING in a Treehouse of Horror episode!”

703. Panic on the Streets of Springfield

Original airdate: April 18, 2021

The premise: Lisa becomes so obsessed with sardonic British pop artist Quilloughby that she personifies him as her imaginary friend, becoming even more of a judgy snob. Also Homer gets a truck, I guess.

The reaction: I’m still not sure if the writers realize how unlikable they’ve made Lisa in recent years. She might have had a slightly big head on her in the early years, but nowadays, her pretentiousness and condescending attitude really makes her come off bad, and this is basically an episode all about that. After rejecting every suggested track off of “Slapify” (“Let’s see if your algorithm can predict my tastes?” she chuckles), she finally lands on the morose artist Quilloughby, a British singer/vegan activist who hasn’t been seen in public for years. Inspired by his music, Lisa gets the school cafeteria to serve mushroom tacos (how she did this is unexplained), but is shocked that Lunchlady Doris added bacon into it. “Everyone at my school is a jerk! Why are they so mean?” she cries. Then she starts to see Quilloughby, who becomes her closest confidant, as they proceed to bond over their snarky displeasure in literally everything and everyone. It’s clear they’re having Lisa go through some teen angst (at age 8), and she’s supposed to be taking things too far and realizes that in the end, but her attitude isn’t grounded in anything as the audience can get behind, so she ends up coming off more annoying than sympathetic. The story culminates in Lisa going to an outdoor music festival where the real Quilloughby is appearing for the first time in decades. While there, her Quilloughby begins to get on her nerves with his never-ending negativity. Real Quilloughby takes the stage, now an out-of-shape middle-aged failure of a has-been who has renounced his veganism and antagonizes the crowd by spewing out bigotry. Ultimately the lesson, intoned by imaginary Quilloughby, is for Lisa to be more open-minded and not sneer at others with differing opinions. It’s almost like an admission by the writers at what they’ve turned Lisa into over the years, that she’s so stubborn and myopic in her worldview that she’s basically on her way to being an irrationally angry bigot who everybody hates. The comparison also feels shaky given that real Quilloughby is screaming about how migrants should die, whereas Lisa is just against eating meat. In the end, it’s yet another episode I don’t see the point in. There was no inciting incident to make Lisa feel so pissed, and her epiphany was basically all internal, but not at all interesting in the slightest, since it’s all painfully spelled out through dialogue, per usual. They try to put a sweet bow on things with Lisa and Marge having a sweet reconciliation, but so much of this episode is intensely sour that it feels pointless.

Three items of note:
– I was very confused by the episode title, and now I see it’s a reference to a Smiths song “Panic,” as in “Panic on the streets of London.” I guess that’s a well-known song, right? Quilloughby is seemingly based on Morrissey, who I’m not very familiar with, but it’s just strange since the majority of the episode titles are extremely obvious “parodies,” and this one sticks out as being less obvious than usual.
– The episode opens with Dr. Hibbert advising Homer about his health, in his first major appearance since Kevin Michael Richardson took over the character starting in “Wad Goals.” He ends up feeling like the weakest replacement voice yet to me only because Richardson’s voice is so familiar, him being very ubiquitous in the TV animation landscape. He’s doing his best to do a Hibbert imitation, but the timber of his voice is just so completely different than Harry Shearer’s that it just doesn’t feel right. But ultimately, none of the new voices will sound “right” because they’re different actors, so it’s inevitably going to be an adjustment. I really don’t want to talk about this new voices stuff anymore, but sometimes I have so little to talk about with specific episodes I just end up talking about it again. At this point, all the POC characters have been covered, with one glaring exception: Apu. Whether he gets a full episode reintroduction, a sneaky reappearance in one scene, or is just gone for good remains to be seen.
– Homer buys a truck after Dr. Hibbert tells him his testosterone levels are slightly low. This isn’t so much a B-plot as just some random stuff happening alongside the main story. Marge ends up exploding at Homer because he’s being so annoying about being a trucker guy (another heavy exercise on Julie Kavner’s vocal chords that made me feel sad.) The ending involves a riot at the music festival Lisa is at, and Homer’s truck finally coming in handy as he goes into all-terrain mode to save Lisa, but that turned out to just be him dreaming asleep at the wheel and Marge found Lisa and brought her back to the truck and she was fine. Whatever. I got bored even just writing that sentence.

Season Ten Revisited (Part Two)

7. Lisa Gets An “A”

  • Great, seemingly ad-libbed bit of ADR by Hank Azaria as Moe in the crowd bolting out of church (“Lemme out of here! That guy never stops talking!”)
  • Homer buying a cheap baby lobster to raise it to maturity “and eat the profits” feels like a very in-character move, his way of beating the system or something. His growing relationship with Pinchy always feels very innocent and childish, which I will most definitely take over him being a raging Jerkass like most of this era. It all serves as a very sweet, silly B-plot that doesn’t try to outshine the simple and straightforward main Lisa story.
  • I was a Nintendo kid growing up, so I never played Crash Bandicoot as a kid. Last year when I bought the remastered trilogy on sale just to see what all the fuss was about, and man, are they bad games. The gussied-up graphics made the aged mechanics and aggravating gameplay stand out even more.
  • How in the hell does Homer’s driver’s license say he’s 140 pounds? Even in high school I’d have trouble believing he was that weight, let alone as an adult.
  • Nelson’s cheating business is all great, with his filing cabinet inside the toilet tank, his employee of the month placard on the stall door, and his insistence that his product are merely study aids for novelty purposes only (“If a few bad apples use them for cheating, I can’t be held responsible.”) 
  • I don’t know how explicit the show had made Miss Hoover’s alcoholism at this point, but her spilling multiple types of booze on her kids’ test papers definitely locks it.
  • I really like how Skinner and Chalmers are both on the same page regarding keeping the grant money and persuading Lisa. Their relationship would devolve into a caricature of what they once were, but it’s nice to actually see them working together for a common goal. Even small stuff like Chalmers excitedly asking Skinner about the new scoreboard is lovely to see.
  • This episode is forever deified by giving us “Super Nintendo Chalmers.” I’m also fond of “I’m learn-ding!” which I use more often than I care to admit.
  • Dynamite cameo by the Sea Captain and his toughen-up boarding school for lobsters, capped off with him pathetically asking Homer and Marge for some spare change.
  • The ending where they trick Lisa with the fake grant presentation is perfect in concept, that Skinner and company could go through all that trouble to deceive a little girl to a $250,000 check to immediately cash at a liquor store. It does feel a little too over-the-top, with Otto’s incredibly realistic mask and vocal performance as the fake Comptroller. Maybe if they had created a new character, like an aide to Chalmers or somebody to pose as the fake Comptroller that Lisa wouldn’t know, but then the audience would have known so it might spoil the reveal… I don’t know, but it really wasn’t a big deal.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “The Simpsons seems to be slowly deteriorating into ‘The Wacky Homer Simpson and family show.’ Even in an episode based around Lisa, it’s still ‘look at Homer. Look at what he’s doing. See what he’s gotten into now.’  Terrible subplot and terrible ending. I want Ian Maxtone-Graham fired tomorrow!”

8. Homer Simpson in “Kidney Trouble”

  • Abe slowly approaching the stalled Simpson car singing Happy Birthday as the suspenseful music builds is a pretty great scene. 
  • The ghost town is basically where the only laughs of the episode are, and there are some admittedly pretty great gags, with the tour guide rambling off about the rich town history of prostitution, Marge eagerly taking pictures of the floorboards, and the scrambling actors during the re-enactment, with one digging a hole for no reason. The animatronic dancing girls were good too, but the other robot bits drag on a bit too long.
  • The idea of exploding kidneys is fine for a crazy one-off gag, but I just can’t go along with it as the crux for an entire episode. It just feels dumber and dumber every time I see this episode.
  • So yeah, Homer is 100% responsible for Abe being near death, and is basically a humongous asshole for most of the rest of the episode. For doing the decent thing in giving his father a kidney, the family heaps praise and rewards onto him (“Nothing’s too good for a wonderful, generous man like you!” Lisa coos.) But the whole family was in the car when Abe’s organs burst, they know what happened (we see they were asleep for the last leg of the trip, but Marge directly tells Homer it was all his fault, so they must all know.) But I guess that doesn’t matter, since Homer’s such a great fucking guy, isn’t he? 
  • It really is just so terrible watching Homer run off like a coward leaving his father to die, let alone for him to do it again at the end. I feel like the only way this could have worked if the episode were about Homer’s latent hatred of his father and how awful he was to him growing up, and that feeling coming out of him through an unconscious desire to see him die… wow, that’s actually much darker than I thought it was, maybe that wouldn’t be so funny. 
  • Homer’s new life at sea and the ship of lost souls is so damn boring, and just plain strange, like I have no idea what any of it is supposed to mean. Homer is wallowing in shame and is ostensibly at his lowest point of loathing, but we still get jokes about him expecting to be captain or first mate when boarding a new ship, so he’s still an arrogant dick even then.
  • “Aren’t you going to give him the last rites?” “That’s Catholic, Marge. You might as well ask me to do a voodoo dance.”
  • Homer getting crushed by the car felt like appropriate karmic retribution for his shitty behavior that episode, but I don’t know if the intention of a show is to have your viewer hate the protagonist. For our ending, Homer is absolutely furious Abe got his kidney, vows to get it back, then ends up slobbering over the idea of stealing Bart’s kidney. Just lovely. I ended up listening to a few scattered bits of the audio commentary, and they were just laughing uproariously at both times Homer abandoned Abe, him getting thrown off the ship of lost soul and him getting crushed by the car. I’m glad they had a better time watching this than me, I guess.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:IMHO, one of the best episodes in recent memory, being a good mixture of humor and seriousness. The scenes at the ghost town were extremely funny, and had me ROFL more than once (history being filthy, flying animatronic robot pieces, taking pictures of boards, etc.). The rest of the plot, although not as well done as this, kept up a good pace. The only really glaring bit was that Homer reverted at times to some of his less savory characteristics). Still, overall an above-average effort.

9. Mayored to the Mob

  • The Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con feels like a watered down version of the convention from “Three Men and a Comic Book.” I really like Comic Book Guy’s anti-meet-cute (“Comb the Sweet-Tarts out of your beard and you’re on.” “Don’t try to change me, baby,”) but that’s about it. Also, Jonathan Harris (Lost in Space’s Dr. Smith) tries to pick up Bart for some reason? What’s that about?
  • I can believe that Springfield could have gotten 1998-era Mark Hamill to appear at the con. This is still a year before Phantom Menace, with Star Wars not quite reaching its newest height of popularity yet. At this point Hamill was becoming a well-established and talented voice actor (also voicing bodyguard teacher Leavelle in this episode), but it’s great that he’s totally game to play himself humiliated by being typecast as Luke having to perform shitty local dinner theater or get inundated by a mob of nerds (I’m sure he took great pleasure in reading, “Back off, you freaking dweebs!”)
  • Why exactly are Lenny, Carl and Willie so adamant about getting to perform a scene with Mark Hamill? I don’t see any of them having a strong love of Star Wars. Between this, Krusty and Mel at the celebrity compound and the very few girl characters the series has being positioned as Lisa’s friends in “Lard of the Dance,” the series is slowly phasing out all generic townspeople in favor of our regular twenty or thirty Springfield regulars, shoving them into crowd scenes regardless of logical reason for them being there. At the bodyguard school, Gil and Kirk are there for some reason, but also a handful of random faces, which I was surprised to see at this point.
  • Homer becomes Quimby’s bodyguard because he pointed at him and said he could be it, and that’s about the extent of it. They wanted to write a Homer the Bodyguard episode, but no one bothered to write an actual reason he’d want the stupid job in the first place.
  • Mark Hamill gives a funny performance as Leavelle, even if that whole section really could have been a lot shorter. And a lot funnier.
  • Homer once again annoys the shit out of everyone with his new job, taking it a step further by applying a sleeper hold and knocking his children unconscious (twice!) Do they not realize how this makes him look  like a big asshole? I once again switched to the commentary for those sections, and once again everyone there was hooting and hollering as Homer silences his children and wife for no reason. Bleh.
  • I love the design of the Genuine Animal Milk carton, with Fat Tony holding a farming pitchfork.
  • The break for act two is so damn stupid with Quimby flying off his treadmill out the open window. Why the fuck would he have his treadmill faced away from the window? And the window’s open, I guess, so he can feel the open air on his back? It’s just transparent bait to convince the dimmest viewers that Homer might have killed the Mayor, when of course he fucking didn’t.
  • After Fat Tony issues his threat against the Mayor, Homer tries to send Bart off to start his car in case it was boobytrapped. What a likable protagonist!
  • I love Quimby not even being able to muster a false enthusiasm about wanting to stay home with the… wife. The best stuff in this episode is all Quimby-based, with his excitement over catcalling and the openness of his bribery (“In the future, I would prefer a nondescript briefcase to the sack with a dollar sign on it.”)
  • Ah, the first appearance of the Yes Guy. I remember thinking he was funny here, just because it’s a silly voice, but he would proceed to be driven into the ground over the coming years. I know lots of Springfield regulars are based on famous celebrities and characters, but this guy is literally just Frank Nelson in yellow skin. I
  • Just as we get no real beginning of the story, with Homer just being Quimby’s only bodyguard for no reason, we end on Fat Tony just beating Quimby with a baseball bat in public with no repercussions whatsoever. Mark Hamill has to tell Homer that Quimby is doing okay and that he was a great bodyguard, two things that it makes no sense that he would know or for him to say. These stories are just getting flimsier and flimsier.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:The best Homer episode in a very long time and one of the best all round from the last three years. For once Homer was not portrayed totally stupid or as a total a**hole.

10. Viva Ned Flanders

  • The conversation at the beginning with Marge, Lisa and Homer talking about why they would have moved Burns Casino with the rest of the town, and Homer’s “perfectly logical explanation” gets cut off feels like the first instance of the show making fun of its terrible writing specifically to piss fans off. I could give two shits about continuity, but I care about stories actually making sense, and this is the first sign that the writers would rather hide behind a joke to excuse their bad writing. In this scene, I like the demolition man’s confused “Implosion?!” but I feel like the building should have immediately exploded then, instead of him continuing, “But I thought you said…”
  • “Once again, tithing is ten percent off the top. That’s gross income, not net, please people, don’t force us to audit.”
  • Ned being revealed to be 60 feels like a real stretch (how old does that make Maude?) and I hate that it’s revealed by Homer holding court in church for some reason, but the story of Ned feeling like he’s wasted his life being too safe has some potential to it. I just wish it were done in a different season. The first scene of act two where he attempts to rebel by growing out his mustache, much to his wife’s amusement, is very sweet, but then Ned catches Homer out his window barbecuing on the fucking roof and the episode plunges into the toilet.
  • “Lost Our Lisa” featured Homer’s new mission statement about being an insane risk-taker, and this episode took that ball and tore off with it. Homer is now Captain Wacky, relishing in getting into misadventures, much to Ned’s admiration for some reason (“Never a dull moment, huh, Homer?” “You got that right!”) The entirety of act two is just scene after scene of Ned asking why Homer is so cool and him saying something fucking stupid. It’s all just so terrible.
  • Homer has Ned sign a bunch of forms for “The Homer Simpson program,” but what the fuck is written on them? Apparently he wants power of attorney, but I doubt Homer even knows what that is. And for what? What the fuck is all this?
  • The only joke I like in the latter two-thirds of the episode is the casino rep manipulating Ned from the ceiling (“Keep gaming. It means, keep gambling.”)
  • I’m sure I already bitched about Homer and Ned’s Vegas wives and how them already being married means their new marriages aren’t legally binding, so there should be no goddamn conflict at all. Besides that, it’s just so incredibly uncreative. Given the writing prompt of someone waking up after blacking out in Vegas, I’m sure the very first idea would be that they got married. If you’re a good writer, you’d move on from that trite idea, but if you’re in the writer’s room of one of the biggest shows on TV, I guess it’s good enough to run with and leave for lunch early.
  • In lieu of writing an ending, Homer and Ned run around Vegas for an incredibly long time and then have to walk home through the desert as Homer talking about Ned getting gang-probed. I never want to watch this episode ever again.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This was a simply outrageous episode! It was reminiscent of the fabulously hilarious episodes of classic Simpsons. Some of the best material came from the signs and ancillary gags. I know I haven’t given OFF extremely good grades this season, but this one is totally deserving of an A+!”

11. Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken

  • The Cyndi Lauper cameo at the beginning is completely disposable; the only “joke” is her singing the National Anthem to one of her own songs… funny? There have been pointless celebrity cameos in the past few seasons, but this one feels especially egregious, and weirdly prescient for the tidal wave of guest appearances to come, where a celebrity will show up out of nowhere for barely a minute to give one or two softball jokes and leave. It feels like at this point, there must have been a master list of celebrities who had either expressed interest in doing the show or somebody on staff had connections with to possibly book, and during the Mike Scully era, they just ran through that whole fucking thing and plugged famous names into scripts wherever they could.
  • Waiting in the car for the Isotopes game to end, Homer sings a crude playground version of “Whistle While You Work,” but the two scenes are cut so tight and spread so far apart that you can’t really even tell what he’s singing (“Hitler is a jerk! Mussolini…” “…it doesn’t work!”) The joke lyrics are: Whistle while you work/Hitler is a jerk/Mussolini bit his weenie, not it doesn’t work. I only know about it from an old “Life in Hell” comic strip that featured a lot of those childhood joke lyrics, but if you didn’t know that, what would you be able to make of four seconds of Homer in his car singing about Hitler and Mussolini?
  • “They lost.” “But only by two points, and they didn’t resort to stealing bases like the other team, so it’s kind of a moral victory.”
  • “Homer’s Night Out” is definitely the highlight of the episode, it’s so perfectly executed in the sepia tone style, and I especially love the abrupt way it ends with the quick cut to the end card and slam down on the piano.
  • It makes sense enough for Wiggum to snap to judgement on persecuting the kids of Springfield, and for the other adults to go along with it, and we get a fair amount of good lines out of him for it (“Let this be a lesson to you! Kids never learn!”
  • The promo for “The Bloodening” is perfect, beefing up the true terror of the film that “even the new management of Sony Tristar could not contain the pure evil of.” It’s a great blend of the promotion of old cheesy horror movies of the 70s, promoting a registered nurse will be on site for every screening “trained in the treatment of terror,” as well as gimmicky promo shit that still gets done today, like with the original Paranormal Activity, where there was a big marketing push to get audiences to demand this film too shocking for a wide release get played in their town, despite it being a major Paramount movie.
  • I like that the kids take inspiration from “The Bloodening,” but the film goes on for way too long, as does almost everything in the back half of the episode. It feels like they could have burned through it in half the time and it would have been fine.
  • “Let’s put it on the Internet! No, we have to reach people whose opinions actually matter!” You think the writers are salty about online criticism yet?
  • The whole town gathers to discuss the kids’ pirate broadcast, but I guess they just leave their kids home unattended during that time? They know it’s kids doing it, why are they not keeping a vigilant eye on them? It’d be one thing if that were the joke, but it’s not.
  • The “Kids/Adults” song… is okay. It’s not great, but I don’t really hate it. It feels like a sliding scale from season 8’s “We Put the Spring in Springfield” to season 9’s “The Garbageman Can” to this. Everything is steadily getting worse, and the show’s once great songs are no exception.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:You know, I was ready to give this a high grade for the first 20 minutes….then it all came crashing down. WHY, WHY, WHY must they SING? The Simpsons has *never* pulled off a successful Broadway-style musical number, and I don’t understand why they keep insisting that they do such. So many parts of this episode I really enjoyed too; the voice acting was a treat to listen to. Harry Shearer’s always accurate impersonation of baseball announcer Vin Scully blows my mind. Unfortunately, the third act with the cliched, overdone, tiresome town-Mayor-mob scene-turned-Broadway-musical was utterly deplorable and turns what had potential to be a good episode into just another Simpsons later-season mediocrity.

12. Sunday, Cruddy Sunday

  • It’s baffling to me how this episode has four writers on it, two of whom are the Scully brothers. How did this happen?
  • The post office is an absolute dud of a set piece. Also Skinner’s “I’m just glad I work at an elementary school” is an incredibly tasteless throwaway line. To be “fair,” this aired a few months before the Columbine shooting, and now over twenty years later, it’s far grosser considering pre-pandemic it felt like we had a new school shooting every few weeks. But even extreme subject matter like that can be satirical in the right context (South Park’s “Dead Kids” comes to mind, highlighting the insane numbness a lot of people have to the ever-repeating tragedies.)
  • Wally Kogan is an absolute flatline of a character. No fault of Fred Willard (RIP), but there’s nothing really funny or interesting about him. He’s just this nice guy who befriends Homer and is his ticket to get to the big game. I guess his only quirk is that he’s as big a gullible sap as Homer, since he got swindled by fake cracker tickets, but it’s not even a thing beyond that one joke. In short, he sucks.
  • I never understood the scene where Homer, Wally and Moe put the beer mugs in front of their mouths to obscure the football team names until much, much later, and it’s really such an insider joke about replacing dialogue after the fact that it just comes off as bizarre and not funny.
  • For the final time, have I mentioned I love Dankmus? This forty seconds is a hundred times better than the entire episode.
  • “Sea Captain, Bumblebee Man, Comic Book Guy, the Squeaky-Voiced Teen …” “Yeah, it’s a good group.” The absolute waste of so many characters comprised in Homer’s Super Bowl mob is so baffling. Ignoring that many of them would have no real interest in seeing the game, they’re all largely there just to fill up space and scream, outside of one or two token moments, like Wiggum determining which jail cell bar is “fake” and some other forgettable joke I don’t recall. If all these unique personalities being boiled down to just be part of a hooting and hollering, football-crazed mob was the point, then mission accomplished, I guess.
  • The stupid egg painting subplot… well, it fills valuable airtime, alright. Also, why did Marge let Homer take Bart with him? Oh, who cares.
  • The guest star line-up is substantial (in number, of course, not in actual substance), but two particularly stick in my craw. Dolly Parton feels like the perfect template for shitty stunt casting appearances, announcing herself by name and showing up to be admired rather than ridiculed, saving the day with her superpowered makeup that burns through steel (?!?) Second, Rupert Murdoch shows up, crediting himself as “billionaire tyrant,” to magically generate bodyguards to seize Homer and company so he can relax in his skybox and continue earning millions. Meanwhile, Murdoch’s last appearance in “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) had him locked away in a cell where he most likely belongs. Barely three years prior, the show was still biting the hand that feeds, now they’re inviting that hand in on the joke. 
  • There’s really no point in trying to make sense of any of this. When we get to the end and everyone ends up in the winning team locker room and they go home with Super Bowl rings… like, what the fuck is any of this?
  • “What a way to treat the loyal fans who put up with so much nonsense from this franchise.” Maybe you guys should try and make your scripts better instead of referring to how bad they are.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This ep was so funny I find it impossible to see it not being liked, up until the very last part, with Madden (the most annoying person alive) and Summerall and Jodi Price driving the bus, it was on my 10 favorite list ever. The post office beginning was great, the body-shop scene was great, the Super Bowl was great. It even had an excellent, albeit minor subplot.”

702. Burger Kings

Original airdate: April 11, 2021

The premise: Mr. Burns’ latest impulse desire to be beloved leads to the creation of a new plant-based burger joint, which wins the hearts of the whole town, even the most discriminating Lisa. But, of course, Burns’ burgers turn out to be not what they appear to be.

The reaction: Usually we have to wait a few seasons between these awful “Burns wants to be loved” episodes, but how lucky, we got two of them in one year! And man, does this make “Undercover Burns” look a lot better. I’m sure I mentioned it back then, but these premises are just complete non-starters for me. You’re going to need to give me some real incentive to convince me that Burns gives even one iota of a fuck what the common folk think of him, but per usual, he just pathetically mewls after realizing people were ready to celebrate his death. The real Burns would order death squads outside his hospital room to dispose of the riffraff, but here, he literally tries to pull the plug on himself in defeat. In response, Smithers offers him one last shot at a redeemed legacy: inspired by Burns’ newfound love of Krusty Burgers, he has Professor Frink engineer the most delicious meat-free burger ever conceived, leading Burns to start the X-Cell-Ent burger shop. The entire town is won over by this, more than willing to overlook Burns’ entire life of evil by opening a restaurant (a newspaper headline literally reads, “Lifetime of Evil Completely Forgotten.”) Even Lisa seems way too eager to embrace Burns immediately, hugging him after her first bite of the new burger, along with the other Simpsons. So Burns got what he wanted, but it doesn’t actually matter. The episode can’t decide whether Burns wants the affection of others or not; he orders Smithers to dispose of the throngs of well wishers outside of his house (with rubber bullets if necessary), then the very next scene, he sighs, “It’s so wonderful being liked!” He’s finally allowed access to the Beloved Billionaires Club, with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (really fucking debatable how “likable” they are), but not Mark Zuckerberg, who gets a limp dick take down scene, made even more pathetic since they graciously allowed him to a guest voice ten years ago.

We’re halfway through the episode now and I don’t even know what the plot is or where it’s going. Yeah, inevitably, Burns’ burgers will have some nefarious secret and he’ll be brought down for it, but he had effectively no involvement in this plan at all, it was basically all Smithers’ doing. So when Lisa discovers that the plants being used for the burgers are all endangered, I don’t even know if Burns knew about it or not. Hell, why doesn’t she go ask her good friend Professor Frink who was hired to make the burger in the first place? Never mind, he appeared once to give Burns the burger and then disappeared. Lisa confronts Burns about it, randomly showing up at the Beloved Billionaires Club, and later beating Burns back to his mansion (by teleporting, I guess), but Burns doesn’t seem to give a shit or even know what she’s talking about. Then the episode becomes about Homer being the one to expose Burns. Earlier in the episode, he appeared in a commercial for Burns’ burger joint, but then the episode continued with no mention of it. Homer has a nightmare co-mingling with other fast food mascots, fearing he’s sold his soul, but I never got the impression Homer was the face of X-Cell-Ent. It felt like he was barely in the episode at all. When we get to the end and Homer struggles with admitting the truth and breaking his NDA, it feels like it means nothing, because it does. Burns snaps back to reveling in his evilness, and nothing of value was gained. This oddly feels like the worst episode of the season solely due to the “not-giving-a-shit” level of the writing being so high. It was like the ghost of a “Burns tries to be good” story with no real plot progression or character motivation, with those replaced by stale material about vegan food (it tastes bad!) As for Burns, literally the only jokes they can do with him anymore are joke about how frail and old he is. Him salivating over a Krusty Burger grossly dehydrates his whole face. He apparently only weighs 14 pounds. Ingesting one bubble of champagne causes him to float to the ceiling of his office like a parade balloon. I’d say kill the poor old man off already, but these characters have all be shambling corpses for about two decades now, so what’s the point?

Three items of note:
– In the absence of an actual plot, there’s vague hints at different subplots. Krusty finds it difficult to compete with Mr. Burns, finding Krusty Burger in dire straits, much to Bart’s dismay (“Oh, jeez, my hero’s a loser!”) Putting aside the fact that Krusty’s empire isn’t entirely based upon his shitty fast food chain, this plot tease is just that: a tease. Krusty reappears at the very end at Burns’ press conference fiasco to celebrate his good fortune (“I won by doing nothing!”) Meanwhile, Marge accidentally purchases stock in X-Cell-Ent, and upon getting a good return on investment, becomes obsessed with monitoring the stock. She’s a compulsive gambler, but I guess she’s just playing one stock? Lisa reacts in horror at her mother being a shareholder, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s all just time killing in an episode that could care less about weaving an actual story.
– Reference time! Right before we see Bart, Lisa and Milhouse biking to Burns’ processing plant, we see the Stranger Things kids ride by, being unknowingly pursued by a biking not-Demagorgon, as the not-Stranger Thing theme song plays. Later on, we hold on a shot of Bart biking as three empty bikes roll by him followed by the not-Demagorgon riding by, clearly having eaten the kids. It’s the most shameless insert-reference-regardless-of-context-here I’ve seen in a long time, made even more egregious that they literally did an entire Treehouse of Horror segment about Stranger Things last season. Also, at Burns’ plant, we see not-Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men with his bolt stunner “murdering” plants with it. This character appeared way back in an episode from 2009, which at least was within the window of relevancy of that movie being out. I feel like he popped up again at some point too, but here, it’s just so baffling, a random appearance of a character from a 14-year-old movie. It’s no different than a shitty Family Guy gag.
– The episode gets its mileage out of depicting Simpson-ized versions of fast food mascots, first in randomly displaying portraits of Burns dressed as Colonel Sanders, Wendy and so on in his office at the start of act two, then later the mascots appearing in Homer’s mascot. Narrating (sort of) the story is a crooning Mac Tonight, a long-dead mascot whose only claim to fame now is being co-opted by the online alt-right to the point that the Anti-Defamation League has “Moon Man” classified as a hate symbol. I guess that’s another issue with having a crew of 55-and-older legacy writers, not only are the references dated, but they might also have adapted all-new meaning in new mediums you’re not aware of.