728. Poorhouse Rock

Original airdate: May 22, 2022

The premise: Bart gains a newfound respect for his father after coming to work with him, resolving that he’d like to have a job and a lifestyle like him one day. However, a wise musical janitor (voiced by Hugh Jackman) throws cruel reality in his face, singing about the death of America’s middle class and the sorry future prospects of the younger generations.

The reaction: The creative inspiration for this episode was an Atlantic article from 2020 examining the lifestyle the Simpson family leads, and how, financially speaking, it was slightly exaggerated in the early 90s, but now a complete fantasy in our modern day. Homer Simpson, a man without a college degree, is able to hold down a job that pays well enough to be the sole breadwinner, living in a nice-sized house and is able to support his three children. That sort of living situation isn’t so easy to come by in modern day America. It’s yet another example how core elements of this show that was once a potent social satire feel so outdated three decades later, but crafting an episode examining that fact is a novel idea. Before we get there, though, we get half the episode setting the almost too elaborate groundwork. After an extensive first act culminating in Homer’s shock that Bart doesn’t respect him (this is news to him?), he takes the boy to work with him in the hopes he’ll see him in a new light. Bart is pretty quickly won over by the power plant’s complimentary snacks, free office supplies, and Homer’s ability to boss around interns to do his work for him. The morning after this visit, he comes down to breakfast dressed as his father, openly stating not only does he immensely respect Homer, but he wants his exact life when he grows up. This feels… off. Bart has always felt like the toughest Simpson to write for in more recent times; he’s not as easy to turn into a broad stereotype (Lisa the liberal scold, Marge the worrywart, Homer the insane maniac), since he’s a snarky bad boy, but also an ignorant kid. I feel like Bart could have been easily enamored by seeing how little Homer does at work each day, yet his position is held in high regard and he gets a substantial paycheck from it, that framework of doing very little for a lot would be very appealing to Bart, and also set the satire in motion in commentating on the comparatively cushier jobs once held by boomers and gen x’ers. Instead, Bart is in awe of Dr. Phil playing in the break room and Homer’s moronic ploy of cashing his paycheck in singles to create a money shower in the car. Bart comes off as just too naive to me. The back half of the episode is the all singing, all dancing portion, as Hugh Jackman’s magical mystical janitor character appears to regal Bart with the tale of the death of the American dream, from the post-war boom to the awful, awful present, care of unchecked capitalism’s boot firmly on the neck of the working man, preventing poor commoner kids like Bart from having any kind of future like his parents once enjoyed. It’s a musical opera, with material that all feels like warmed over leftovers you might have seen on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, especially getting one of the final numbers where the elderly of Springfield sing about how they listen to FOX News and vote for the GOP because of their fearmongering. None of it feels like very inspired satire, and none of the songs are very memorable, despite an admittedly strong performance by Nancy Cartwright. It just feels kind of pointless, given the show isn’t going to change to reflect any new reality this episode is illuminating, and there’s no real solution the episode can give, since there’s no attainable solution to this issue. The best they can do is highlight “firefighter” as an evergreen job, since the world will never be not on fire, literally or metaphorically, which is kind of cute, but I guess for Bart, that means he’s going to be a fireman? It’s a pretty non-ending, but I don’t really know what else they could have done. In the end, this feels like it could have been better off as a YouTube short “response” to the Atlantic article, but as an episode itself it doesn’t really hold together, and again, holds up a greater magnifying glass to how this series is so bizarrely out of time.

Three items of note:
– Homer originally lucked into his power plant job in the early 80s, but now thanks to our floating timeline, and if the events of “I Married Marge” and “I Love Lisa” are still considered “canon,” Homer started working at SNPP in 2012, and they bought their home a few years later, well after the housing bubble collapse and Obama bailed out the banks rather than help any of the  customers they fucked. These aren’t really criticisms, since I’ve bitched enough about the out-of-time thing, but more horrifying reminders of how much closer and closer I’m getting to Homer’s age. I’m already uncomfortably close to his original 36, so thinking of him getting hired by the plant and Bart’s birth occurring a year after I graduated from college and a year after I started this very blog is pretty frightening to me.
– The opening bit involves Marge inviting her lady friends over to watch a “very classy historical British streaming show,” of course meaning Bridgerton. Oh, sorry, I meant Tunnelton. Get it, because it’s the opposite of a bridge… [sigh] Honestly, can they just not show the shitty “parody” titles for these things? Just don’t even show them. They namedrop Netflix, you give enough context clues, we know what you’re doing. The show did plenty of TV and movie parodies in its heyday where they were just watching the shows, or if they did shake it up, it was some absurdist variation of it, like “Knight Boat.” But Tunnelton is just Bridgerton, so who fucking cares, just call it Bridgerton. You already said Netflix, so what’s the difference? Also Miss Hoover is among Marge’s guests, which felt like a weird addition. Have they ever hung out together? Also present are more usual suspects Luann Van Houten, Bernice Hibbert, and Sarah Wiggum, still voiced by Megan Mullally, which is currently causing one NoHomers poster to go mental (“I heard Sarah speak as Megan, I got up and seriously screamed out ‘FUCK’ and threw my remote at my TV.”) Who knew there existed Sarah Wiggum fans?
– The couch gag features character designs by Spike R. Monster, a Venezuelan fan artist who has gained some Internet fame for his depictions of the kids of Springfield as teenagers, including in webcomic form in the aptly named Those Springfield Kids. They’re a very talented artist with a fun take on the Simpsons style; I actually follow them on social media and was very surprised to see the announcement about his involvement with the show officially. The show has had guest artists do couch gags, but they’ve always been by famous animators, and they’ve also featured already completed fan works, like the 16-bit couch gag or that potato ink thing? (sorry, I’m a bit tired writing this and I don’t feel like looking it up) But this feels like a first, where they got an actual fan artist do official character designs of their fan fiction to depict on the show itself, and honestly, that’s pretty damn cool to me. Spike and his girlfriend “Meatgirl” are both great artists and big fans of the show, new episodes included, as clearly shown in Spike’s thread of artistic tributes to every episode of this season. It feels like a wise move to reach out to the fans like this, and honestly, they’d be smart to continue doing stuff like this. I’m sure the show has always sought out fan feedback, but I feel like now more than ever, they should take heed to whatever the hardcore fans are really responding to and run with it. It doesn’t matter what a grumpy curmudgeon like me thinks of this show, people like these two artists are the real true and loyal fans, and it was honestly really cool of the show to make this guy’s day by offering him this opportunity.

So once again, we’ve reached the end of another season. Hot diggity damn, can you believe it? I can definitely say this has been the most interesting year the show’s had in a good while, with a number of more experimental episodes (“A Serious Flanders,” “Pixelated and Afraid,”) and character exploration shows (“Boys N The Highlands,” “Girls Just Shauna Have Fun.”) They even “officially” filled the fourth grade teacher slot with a new character, though what they do with her remains to be seen. The success of these more non-traditional episodes will vary on who you ask, but it’s certainly admirable of the show to try something different than just settle for the same old stuff. Of course, some of these efforts were spectacular failures, as this season had its fair share of truly awful episodes (“The Wayz We Were,” “Mother and Other Strangers,” “Bart the Cool Kid,” “Pretty Whittle Liar,” “An Octopus and a Teacher.”) But fan response, from what I can gauge of it (mostly from random Twitter comments and lurking around No Homers out of curiosity), seems to really be keen on these more ambitious efforts, and you know what, good for them. I’ve long been perplexed as to who this show is being made for and what people are getting out of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to enjoy this show. It comes from a place of non-understanding than any sort of scorn. If the fans actually watching this show to enjoy it are actually excited about these new chances the show is taking, then hey, that’s just lovely. And honestly, it’s making me a little curious if they’ll continue doing weird new stuff like this in season 34, and that’s something I’ve never, ever said about an upcoming season. While there’s only one episode in the past year I can look back on with any kind of real fondness (“Portrait of a Lackey on Fire,”) that’s definitely one more than usual. So smell yah later in September, losers. This blog’s gonna go down in flames only when this show goes first!

727. Meat is Murder

Original airdate: May 15, 2022

The premise: Krusty’s empire is bought out from under him by Gus Redfield, former burger-store-owner-turned-billionaire whom Krusty ruined in the past. Gus seeks out Abe Simpson, his former partner, wanting to give him a seat on the board of his company, populated by his own selfish children with their own agendas.

The reaction: This is another one of those episodes where the premise is largely carried by a guest character (or characters, in this case), but there’s not a whole lot given for me to actually care about these newbies. The big twist at the end involves all these characters we just met, while Lisa and Abe just sit there and react, and I’m doing the same, wondering what I’m supposed to be feeling. But before that we have a ton of set-up to do. In a flashback to fifty years ago, we see Krusty, coming off of a flop set at a comedy club, stopping at “Worth-A-Try Burger” for a bite, only to be impressed by the food, so much so that he agrees to help do promotion for them. We later find that when Krusty tried to take a larger cut from the restaurant, they told him to get lost, only for him to set up his own competing Krusty Burger, eventually becoming the only game in town, leading to the media empire he controls today. In present day, Gus Redfield reemerges, the former owner of Worth-A-Try, now an insanely wealthy business tycoon, who enacts his revenge by buying out the entire Krusty conglomerate. Then it’s revealed that Abe was Gus’ right-hand man, who he reunites with and offers to go into business together. So finally with the episode almost half over, we get into our story: Abe is worried he’ll screw up this new opportunity, so he takes Lisa with him (affectionately referring to their team-up as “Grampsa,” in a pathetic and mewling attempt at sentimentality that’s repeated twice). Homer and Marge just let the doddering old man take their daughter on a private helicopter to God knows where, where Gus introduces them to the fellow board members, his spoiled, mooching children. I don’t know how much of this specifically parodies HBO’s Succession, but I don’t care since I haven’t watched it, and this material should be able to stand on its own. Gus’ daughter tries to warm herself up to Lisa, pledging she wants to take control of the company to make it more eco-friendly, in a charade they thankfully don’t keep up for long like it’s genuine, as we see she’s looking up research of Lisa’s greatest interests to best con her into taking her side so she can convince Abe to vote her way. So the board meeting to overthrow Gus results in a tie, with Abe as the final vote, who bucks outside influence and stays true to his old friend. Then Gus reveals this whole thing was a set-up, bringing in Abe as a ringer vote to maintain control and finally be able to relinquish his children’s control of the company. All I’m doing is describing this incredibly involved plot because I don’t know what else to really dwell over. Like I said, this entire premise is focused on the lives and business aspirations of four new characters that aren’t very interesting who have little connection to the Simpsons at all. Meanwhile, Abe’s worry about “the Simpson curse” plaguing him to make the wrong decisions doesn’t really hold weight since I don’t even know what’s at stake. What even does this company do? What does Gus want to do with full control outside of firing his kids? What will Abe get out of this? Who cares. In the end, Abe plays up his senility to make his vote invalid, resulting in a deadlock vote that doesn’t really defeat Gus, just puts them in a squabbling limbo as Lisa and Abe just leave and go home. In the end, I don’t know how to even react to the episode on the whole since it felt like nothing that happened mattered, what little of it I really felt I understood. I’m kinda just checking my watch for this season to come to a welcome close.

Three items of note:
– So how the hell old is Krusty? Fifty years ago, he looks and sounds exactly the same as the present. In “Day of the Jackanapes,” Krusty claims he’s been in show business 61 years, which always felt like a weird line, but maybe if he’s considering being a class clown in Hebrew school as a kid, he could be in his 70s. I guess the same could be said here, if you think Krusty could be in his 20s in the flashback, but it’s still curious. I suppose the joke is that with all his clown make-up on, Krusty’s remained age-less. Also, it seems like they’re doing a little tribute to The Founder, the movie recounting the life and times of Ray Kroc and how he fucked over the original McDonald brothers for their franchise. It’s never really been delved into, but I always assumed Krusty’s media empire was built on his TV show and all the merchandising tie-ins all sprung from that, but this episode seems to imply that Krusty Burger was where he had his initial success and everything else sprang from that. None of these are really complaints, it’s just interesting stuff I noted.
– There’s an awful lot of great voice talent wasted in this episode: John Lithgow, Krysten Ritter, Seth Green, Paul F. Tompkins… Lithgow, especially, getting the most screen time as Gus. The character’s plan was to act flighty and borderline senile to give the impression that he could be overthrown by his children via boardroom vote, but I never got that impression from the dialogue he’s given prior to the reveal. That’s a shame, since I feel like Lithgow definitely could have given a great performance with that kind of role, but he just wasn’t given the material to support it. Instead, he does an unfunny riff on Willy Wonka‘s “Pure Imagination” and shouts a lot. Cool.
– The other Rayfield board members include a guy from Shark Tank, Angela Merkel and TikTok’s very own Charli D’Amelio, someone I know nothing about and am not in any rush to change that. I’m reminded of when they had Justin Bieber on in the heat of his popularity and fans were up in arms, for what amounted to an incredibly brief cameo, complete with a “warning” at the bottom of the screen announcing when he was going to appear. Here, I’m sure some fans will be similarly annoyed, but her appearance is no more pointless than any hundreds of other ones I can name. I’m more curious how this booking happened; Justin Bieber was, at the time, a very identifiable celebrity even the older writing staff would have known about, but D’Amelio had to come from either one of the writer/producer’s teenage children telling them about her, or the result of researching who’s a hip young celeb that the kids like is who we could book on the show. Was this an attempt to get younger people to tune in? I really have no idea.

726. Marge the Meanie

Original airdate: May 8, 2022

The premise: Marge reveals she used to be quite the prankster back in middle school, resulting in her bonding with Bart over their shared fondness for mischief. Homer feels left out, and turns to Lisa to try to find out if any of their interests overlap.

The reaction: Sometimes there are certain episodes that feel so incredibly thin that there doesn’t feel like there’s much to grab onto. This season has had a lot of fairly ambitious episodes, so this one feels pretty undercooked in comparison, like they didn’t bother taking a few more passes on the script. Marge has a run-in with an older woman who seems deathly afraid of her (“Marge Bouvier, you ruined my life!”) It turns out she was the principal of her old middle school. In flashbacks, we see that upon moving up from grade school, Marge was all alone and a constant victim of bullies, with the principal being largely apathetic to her struggles. Marge accidentally causes the principal to trip and fall in a garbage can, resulting in her getting some much needed social cred. We then see two more intentional pranks Marge pulled on her, and that’s it. If this episode is about Marge’s actual secret inclination toward mischief, it feels like we needed to see more of her actually being a little shit and what drove her as a kid to do these things. Also, Marge was at that school for two to three years decades ago, and this principal is still traumatized by her? Whatever. Bart repeatedly tells his mother how impressed he is and how glad he has something to bond with her with (“We’re the same! I finally have a parent I’m proud of!”) Marge and Bart proceed to bond over them pulling pranks on irritable townsfolk like Comic Book Guy and Helen Lovejoy, but Marge’s conscious is taking its toll. She loves this new bond she has with Bart, but she feels bad about what she’s doing. This all culminates in a prank gone wrong involving tripping Mr. Burns into oncoming traffic, where he’s hit multiple times by cars and lands on top of power lines, getting repeatedly shocked, an aggressively cartoonish sequence that almost feels uncomfortable. Marge has a brief therapy session after that, which feels like it should delve into where these rambunctious urges of hers comes from, but we get none of that. Meanwhile, Bart seems nonplussed by almost murdering an 104-year-old man and begs his mother not to give up pranking (“If you give it up, you’re giving me up!!”) He breaks down in tears after this. The emotional stakes are ratcheted way up, but I just don’t care enough about what’s happening to buy into it. I get that Bart feels a greater sense of attachment to Marge, but this feels like it’s being pushed too far. Marge agrees to one last job, a prank pulled on her old principal, which results in her having a heart attack. However, this was actually a prank she and Marge pulled on Bart to get him to stop pranking. So being responsible for nearly killing Mr. Burns was just fine for Bart, but with this other old person, it’s fine? I feel like this has potential to be an interesting Marge episode, exploring her past and giving some insight into some hidden aspects of her character. She’s always portrayed as the perfect mom, so to see her indulging in some more off-kilter impulses might have been interesting. Instead, it all just felt so empty and pointless. There’s a lot of episodes that feel like they have premises with potential but end up falling short, but this one felt like it was barely even trying.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot involves Homer trying to see what he has in common with Lisa, if anything. He indulges in her love of vegan food, even though he finds all of it disgusting. The two plots seem to share a common thread that Homer and Marge are both doing things to bond with their children that they themselves don’t like, but they don’t really gel that well considering with Marge, it’s a secret shame she’s trying to suppress, while Homer genuinely hates everything Lisa’s making her eat. In the end, Homer and Lisa discover they have similar food allergies, and we get our sappy ending (“Dad, you passed down the most important part of yourself: your kind heart.”) The doctor lampshades this by fake coughing (“I’m afraid I’m allergic to treacle!”) Have the writers been reading this blog and seen how many times I’ve complained about bullshit overly-treacly endings?
– We see Superintendent Chalmers in the flashback, reacting to the principal being knocked in the garbage (“I’ll do a lot better with the next person I hire. He’ll be a WIN-NNERRRR!”) First off, I thought this was implying that he was going to fire the principal, perhaps being the beginning of an endless downward spiral for her, thus explaining why she despised Marge. But no, after this, we see she stayed on as principal to get pranked by Marge over and over. What? Secondly, does anybody still laugh at these “SKINNER!” variations anymore? They did a similar thing with Nelson doing alternates to his usual “Haw haw!” for a while, and occasionally still do. Thirty years of shows and we can’t stop with these cutesy takes on their catchphrases. It all just feels so fucking old. In the last episode, we actually attempted to show a different side of Chalmers, at least briefly, but even there we had him scream “SIMP-SON!” just like he does with Skinner. Maybe after seven hundred fucking episodes, we can maybe examine different things that might be funny about a side character rather than do the same running gag for the eightieth time?
– Bart’s love of pranking almost feels out of time for me. I’ve talked about how weird it is whenever he uses a slingshot in modern episodes; it harkens back to his origins as a riff on Dennis the Menace, which was an older reference back in 1990, but now is completely anachronistic. Here, we see Bart attempting to pull the peanut brittle can filled with snakes gag, something that I just can’t imagine a kid in 2022 even knowing what that is. Like maybe a really young kid might get his hands on a prank kit with a whoopee cushion, fake gum or whatever and think it’s funny, but modern day ten-year-olds are all on their smartphones cyberbullying each other on Tik Tok, not putting Kick Me signs on people’s backs. When’s the last time any kid has done that? I might be overgeneralizing a bit, but any time they try and portray Bart like this in new episodes, it always seems pretty outdated.

725. Girls Just Shauna Have Fun

Original airdate: May 1, 2022

The premise: When Lisa is called in to sub for the high school band, she forms an unlikely bond with Shauna over their shared musical interest. Meanwhile, Homer discovers Chalmers brews his own beer.

The reaction: Are there any Shauna fans in the audience? I really haven’t a clue, but I can’t imagine there are many. She’s a total flatline of a character to me. The most interesting thing they ever did was reveal her to be Superintendent Chalmers’ daughter, which has lent to two or three somewhat humorous scenes depicting him as an exasperated father. But Shauna herself has always been a boring stock character of a disaffected teen, with this episode doing very little to flesh her out any further than that. Lisa starts going to high school band practice after school when she is requested to sub for an absent musician (why they didn’t call anyone from Springfield Middle School is unclear). There, she is surprised to see Shauna on drums, who Lisa is eager to build a rapport with (we learn that she is the Simpson babysitter, so that’s how she knows her). Eventually, Shauna’s wall of teenage snark and detachment weakens and the two start to hang out, with her adopting a big sister role to Lisa. Through all of this, we don’t learn anything about Shauna though. I understand that teenage angst is usually not rooted in anything specific, but we never get anything about her damages, or why she hates her dad. Her father is the superintendent, they could have easily thrown some kind of line about that in there. Also nothing about why she loves the drums, or why she’s hesitant to try out for first chair. Does she think they’d never accept her because she’s a “bad” kid? Or she doesn’t want to put in the work even though she’s insanely gifted? Anything? As a result of this, Shauna and Lisa’s bonding was superficially charming at times, but it never felt like there was any substance to it. This all leads to our final act, where they go to a high school party that gets flooded with alcohol, leaving Lisa out of her element. She’s left alone from Shauna, who wandered off to make out with the quarterback who invited her. Again, if Shauna had actually wanted the acceptance of other people, or it was established she had a crush on him, she might actually have conflicting motivations that would lead her to let Lisa down, but she remains as one note as ever (“Where were you?” “I was with Trevor, getting some.” “Some what?” “Some smooches! Duh!” This is how teenagers talk). I’m no fan of Shauna, but even a character as flat as her could turn into someone of interest, but this was a very barebones attempt.

Three items of note:
– As with the bully characters, Shauna’s age has always been rather nebulous. We’ve seen her work in retail and service jobs before, so she must be at least 16, which checks out with her being a high schooler. Meanwhile, Dolph, Kearney, and Shauna’s ex Jimbo are stuck at Springfield Elementary, which must have been pretty awkward for her when they dated. But had we not seen Shauna at Springfield Elementary before this point? I feel like we must have, but I really don’t remember. It just made it all the more awkward when the show had done semi-sexualizing jokes with her, like when she flashes Bart her breasts, or when she made out with Gil at one point.
– The Homer/Chalmers B-plot is kind of nice, but I didn’t get a ton of out of. I kind of like the little glimpses we’ve gotten into Gary Chalmers’ personal life over the years, even if they haven’t lent themselves to successful episodes. His love of history and his marital history in “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts,” his vulnerability and growing respect for Skinner in “Road to Cincinnati,” and here, with his beer brewing acting as an escape from his detachment from his daughter (“You’re there when it enters the world, so full of promise, and you know that if you pour your heart and hard work into it, it won’t tell you it’s pregnant just to mess with you.”) How does Chalmers have greater and more satisfying character motivation in the B-plot than Shauna in the main story?
– The ending reveal that the teens at the party are not actually drunk at all because Homer forgot to add the yeast to their brew is actually clever in concept, but all it did was remind me of the pilot of the wonderful Clone High, where Abe gets an invite to the cool kid’s party, but only if he can bring the beer. Unable to get any, he brings a non-alcoholic, keg which the kids drink up anyway and act like maniacs, regardless of their non-inebriated state. Abe finally admits what he did, and that he only wanted to be accepted by his peers, a moment undercut by a police sheriff calling him a loser and everyone laughing. Meanwhile, Wiggum gives a speech to sermonize to the teens about the consequences of their actions and to have compassion for their fellow students in a bit that’s supposed to be funny, I guess, but it feels more like the older writers openly venting about not understanding their teenage children. Give me the Andy Dick sheriff any day (“Son, if we don’t enforce the drinking age, the excitement of sneaking around to get wasted might disappear forever. You want that on your shoulders, pal?”) Man, Clone High was so damn funny.