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 It’s yet another example how core elements of this show that was once a potent social satire feel so outdated three decades later, but crafting an episode examining that fact is a novel idea.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!