748. The Very Hungry Caterpillars

Original airdate: May 7, 2023

The premise: A widespread caterpillar infestation causes a town-wide lockdown for all of Springfield, with the Simpsons dealing with their unplanned isolation in differing ways.

The reaction: As the world began to return to some sort of normalcy after the greater part of the pandemic, so too did the world of entertainment, and with it came a big question: how do we deal with COVID in regards to our storytelling? Initially this only presented a problem to shows that take place in the “real” world: some chose to ignore it, some embraced the “new normal” of our current society, and even some others chose to portray themselves in a hypothetical future, post-COVID time (the ABC medical dramas, after spending part of a season dealing with COVID, eventually opted for this route.) Meanwhile, we’ve gotten some movies that take place during lockdown or are COVID-related in some way. But does anyone actually want to watch them? A little over three years after the start of the pandemic, we get our COVID episode, where an airborne disease is replaced with a swarm of creepy crawlies that have taken over the entire town of Springfield. The Simpsons all have their own side stories: Bart relishes in peeking in on Skinner’s embarrassing home life through remote learning, Lisa drives herself into an unending panic via doom-scrolling, and Homer and Marge near their breaking point as they run out of the only food Maggie wants to eat. Now, I’ve talked about how in recent years, the Internet has basically killed topical satire for television, since when any event happens, you can go online and see thousands upon thousands of jokes people have written in response to it. It just feels like a losing situation whenever the show tries to tackle a “current” issue, that whatever gag or take they have on it feels like it’s already been done before. This episode feels like the granddaddy of them all; since we were all stuck inside all day in 2020, what the fuck else could we do but make fun of ourselves online? Increasing paranoid about COVID, remote learning, food supplies running low, binging TV, endless pessimism, all of this shit has been discussed and joked about to exhaustive degrees since the pandemic began, and nothing we see here is anything remotely novel, which feels even more tired given how long it took them to make an episode like this. Three years later… why even bother? The only thing I’ll say I enjoyed is in Lisa’s mania, she imagines her Malibu Stacy dolls come to life and make her even more mentally unwell, and they’re all voiced by Yeardley Smith doing Valley girl accents, which is very cute. But then it all culminates in Lisa espousing a message of hope, that even in the darkest times, a little hope and kindness will make things turn out alright. Wow, how deep and timely! Like, who is this episode for? We’ve literally heard all of this before. We all lived through it, we all talked about it, we joked about it, so I don’t get why anyone would want to watch an episode about all this stuff we’ve already gone over to death so long after the fact. It’s like the Slowpoke meme as a Simpsons episode.

Three items of note:
– I know the caterpillars is just a flimsy COVID stand-in that I shouldn’t think about too literally or deeply, but what exactly is keeping everybody trapped inside? We see Homer is able to make his way over to Flanders’ house thanks to a mini-blowtorch, blasting his way through the caterpillars with no problem. Couldn’t anyone just drive where they needed to go and squish those little fuckers? I guess we’re to believe that Springfield is so ill-equipped to actually deal with the problem in any way that they just completely give up without even trying, which definitely feels believable, but I dunno, it didn’t feel like that was emphasized enough. Also I noticed the blowtorch says BURN-Y-BRO, as in Bernie Bro (an incredibly sweaty joke), because I guess since this episode is a 2020 throwback, why not go all the way? It just reminded me of their petty and toothless bit they did a few years back with young Bernie Sanders having his supporters beat people up… just terrible.
– Bart gets the biggest subplot, as his window into Skinner’s world reveals his slick cousin (voiced by Rob Lowe) buttering Agnes up to get possession of her family blanket, a treasured item for Skinner. Skinner’s eventual breakdown over this new reality causes Bart and the other kids to feel bad, so they work together to actually help Skinner out. I guess this is supposed to set up the final message about getting through hard times by extended empathy to your fellow man, but it just feels so, so lame. Bart has extended sympathy to Skinner or Krabappel in the past, but it’s so on-the-nose here that it deflates any attempt at a realistic emotion (“We’re not feeling bad for Skinner! We’re not gonna see him as a human being!”)
– Last episode featured an incredibly rough-sounding monologue by Mr. Burns, and here in the third act, we see an uncharacteristically angry Flanders gruffly intimidating Homer in a decidedly non-Flanders voice. It’s kind of funny given how I talked about how Burns felt like the one weak link in Harry Shearer’s chain, and how his other main voices have sounded fine over the years, and now we have a kind of weird-sounding Flanders performance. But, as I’ve repeated over and over, it’s just something that you have to deal with, it’s a problem with no solution, blah blah blah… I only bring it up again because I saw a post on Twitter sharing a clip of the newest SpongeBob episode, wondering why SpongeBob sounded different. And yes, his voice is a little lower register than it was in his heyday. Why? Because Tom Kenny is 60 years old. People age, their voices change, that’s all it is. At this point I bring this up not as any sort of criticism but as an observation. Like I said last time, these moments ultimately just make me a little sad, acknowledging the passage of so much time through something as simple as a vocal performance of a beloved character. But that is the way of it. Nothing can stop the march of time. As Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful Pinocchio put it, what happens, happens. And then… we are gone.

15 thoughts on “748. The Very Hungry Caterpillars

  1. So this is a Modern Simpsons COVID episode? Oh my gosh, that is absolutely adorable. Can I pet it?

  2. So, like, if they wanted to do their lousy COVID episode, why couldn’t they have just done it? It’s not like anyone gives a shit anymore about it as far as the general public is concerned. Barring that, what exactly is the problem with the caterpillars? If they carried some kind of spore that was toxic to humans I could understand that but as far as I was concerned it was just a bug over infestation.

    I’m surprised they just didn’t up and say “we are all in this together” and other stale trite from that period.

    1. Something tells me they just needed the excuse to mock the lockdowns. Which is why we don’t get details like “What makes the bugs dangerous” or “Why did they invade Springfield only to cocoon themselves up?” They’re literally a deus ex-insectina to the plot and only exist for the overlapping conflict.

      If they say, made it so that the bugs carried a danger, like a spore or they were harmful to people via some form of poison or bite, it’d make some sense for the lockdown. But that doesn’t seem the case at all.

    2. Knowing this show I’m surprised they didn’t just call it “CUVID-19”, with one letter changed in case the virus wanted to sue them for their limp jokes. I mean, I guess this is better in theory as it makes the episode “timeless”, on the off chance that some Irish kid in 20 years decides to watch this episode.

      At least the writers made the infestation related to caterpillars and not crows. I don’t think they could resist the “Corvid-19” pun.

  3. The voices observations in these posts remind me of June Foray in the post-Jay Ward productions where it’s obvious that her voice is not as high spirited as it was in his heyday (Rocky ends up sounding much older and the vocal range is rougher).

    1. That CGI Rocky and Bullwinkle short that DreamWorks did for the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie was a real rough sit. June Foray was like 96 when she recorded that, and boy, you could tell 😔

  4. I know that it’s a very long from script to screen for a lot of cartoons, but this episode doesn’t have that excuse, as the script was written less than a year ago.

    Like, come on.

  5. Uh, Mike…. your site keeps going down. It’s been on and off for the last few days. Just wanted you to know in advance of your review of tonight’s episode.

      1. When I registered the new domain, it was accidentally under an old email that I can’t access anymore. When I didn’t respond to a confirmation email after a certain number of days, the domain was temporarily shuttered. So I just updated it with my current email.

      2. Yeah I see that too, on some browsers it’s still not up. I contacted WordPress but I’m waiting to hear back. Sorry about that.

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