356. The Father, The Son and The Holy Guest Star

(originally aired May 15, 2005)
Another show that I really have no idea what it’s trying to say; it’s supposed to be satirizing Catholicism, I guess, but ultimately all I see is an episode clumsily lifting elements from previous shows. The first act involves Bart getting expelled, just as he was in “Whacking Day.” Except here, it happens during a big medieval fair at the school, and the big prank isn’t actually caused by Bart, he just takes the blame. The school is so damn poor, how do they have the funds to put on this pretty elaborate fair? And why? Who is this for? Anyway, Willie enacts his revenge and Bart takes the fall, but I’m not sure why it’s constructed like this. The only way this comes into play is much later Bart warms up to Father Sean because he believes he was innocent, but they could have played that ten different ways and it wouldn’t make a difference. Is it to make him seem more sympathetic? Even despite his prank in “Whacking Day,” Bart’s plenty sympathetic; he’s just a rambunctious kid who ultimately didn’t mean to ram Chalmers in the ass. …boy, that sentence doesn’t sound very good, does it?

The only place that will have Bart and is cheap enough is a Catholic school, and it isn’t long before he’s swayed by the faith, through ultra-violence religious comic books. Homer goes to straighten things out, but ends up turned himself thanks to pancake dinners and bingo. Marge teams up with Lovejoy and Flanders to reclaim her son and husband to the “right” religion. So it’s kind of like “The Joy of Sect,” but where the Movementarians were actually a despicable, untrustworthy cult, the Catholics… well… we won’t get into religious discussions here, but for the purposes of this show, they’re definitely not negatively portrayed. Marge wins Bart over with material possessions like “Sect,” here paintball instead of hover bikes, but it feels so clumsy here. There, Bart was brainwashed, here, Bart seems to be truly invested in his faith, then drops it as a goof, then comes back and delivers one sentence of a resolution, and everyone’s minds are completely changed. One line that’s surely been said a million times over stops the conflict between Christians and Catholics. I’m not sure what the point of this show is… another episode where I’m just confused more than I’m annoyed.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The show finally takes a shot at Dubya with Homer prattling about what America’s next great war will be (“Anything’s possible with Commander Cuckoo-Bananas in charge!”) Not funny, yeah, but it’s strange that after so many shots at Clinton we have basically nothing at Bush Jr.’s expense. On a commentary, Jean mentions that they never did many jokes because public opinion of the President kept changing every six months or so that they didn’t want to do it. Well, one, I recall that opinion of him was quite low for most of his presidency, so I don’t know what that was about. And two, if you wanted to take a crack at him, what do you care about public opinion? What’s with the show and its lack of balls now?
– This is a nice runner between the teacher nun and Bart, who’s been forced to pose like Christ on the cross and hold heavy books in his hands (“Now think what it would be like if you nails in your hands.” “Well, I guess they’d help me hold the dictionaries up.”)
– With not much material to work from, I think Liam Neeson did a good job as Father Sean. I like his recounting of how he got his faith: face down in the gutter after a brawl with his father, St Peter appeared before him (“‘Sean, you wanker,’ he says, ‘Repent of your wicked ways or sod off!’ And he gobbed in my face and turned back into a street light.”)
– I’m really not sure what this show’s stance on Catholicism is… or that they even have one. The montage of Homer and Bart’s new faith is indicative of that. We see Bart using a rosary, them rejecting meat on Friday, more pancakes and bingo… like, is that all? Oh, and of course they make a priest molesting kids joke. I knew they couldn’t resist it.
– Marge’s heaven daydream is so long, and ultimately just more time killing. And if that’s her worry, then why isn’t she just as concerned with Lisa’s move to Buddhism? Couldn’t she have had a line or something where she was concerned of being the only Christian family member left?
– The entire last act echoes so closely to “Sect,” but the tone is completely different. Marge, Flanders and Lovejoy feel so unbelievably petty, trying to force Bart back into Christianity. Though this is a great line from Lovejoy (“We’re here to bring you back to the one true faith: the Western branch of American Reformed Presbyterianism.”)
– “It’s all Christianity, people! The little stupid differences are nothing compared to the big stupid similarities!” That’s it. That’s all it takes to stop the entire conflict. Everyone is completely swayed, and Father Sean alerts all to abide Bart’s message of peace. But first, a line from Flanders (“He’s right! Can’t we all get together and concentrate on our real enemies: monogamous gays and stem cells?”) Then he mentally notes to re-bless his hand after shaking it with a Catholic. I hate Flanders now. And if there’s one character that shouldn’t elicit a hateful response, it’s motherfucking Flanders.

Season 16 Final Thoughts
Another season, same old shit.
In fact it’s actually getting worse in that episodes are becoming more and more forgettable. Normally with these season round-ups the worst episodes stand out to me, but now I have to go through the list and remember which ones pissed me off the most. It’s all becoming just a big wash, but thankfully there’s only four more seasons of this banality left to do.

The Best
“The Heartbroke Kid,” “A Star is Torn”

The Worst
“She Used to Be My Girl,” “Mommie Beerest,” “There’s Something About Marrying,” “On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister,” “Mobile Homer”

355. Home Away From Homer

(originally aired May 15, 2005)
I forgot FOX had these three weeks of double-episode Sundays, I guess they ran out of time and had to cram as many episodes possible into the season. I mention this only because I can’t think of a way to open this review. To raise some extra money, Flanders opens up his spare room for rent, and takes in two college women as tenants. Unbeknownst to him, they are actually softcore webcam whores, using his home as their new studio. Homer soon finds out, and makes it his mission to inform the whole town about it. I wouldn’t say Homer working to humiliate Flanders like this is entirely out of character, but it’s kind of uncomfortable to watch. I also find it’s a bad sign when Homer spends most of the running time smiling and laughing; he chuckles when he shows Moe the smutty website, then cut to an exterior of the church with him still laughing, then we see him at a pew playing with a bobble head Moses. Homer used to be downtrodden, and dare I say humble, and that’s why we loved him. Now he’s just this giggling moron who fucks things up for everyone, and we’re supposed to like him?

When Flanders finds out the truth, and that the town has been mocking him behind his back, even his “best friend” Homer, he is crest-fallen. He ends up moving to Humbleton, PA, a town as saccharine sweet and wholesome as the Humble (Hummel) figurines they produce. Meanwhile, the Simpsons’ new neighbor is a hardass coach who berates and abuses Homer. He’s arrogant and abrasive, sure, but on the whole we see he’s no worse a neighbor to Homer as Homer was to Flanders (“By the way, I borrowed some gas from your car.” “But I siphoned that gas from Flanders!”) So ultimately Homer goes to Humbleton to beg Flanders to come home. This is usually reserved for Homer-Marge episodes, but this is another show that ends with Homer’s pleas to not be out of love or respect, but to beg the other person to put up with their bullshit and do absolutely nothing to change their dickish ways. And Flanders accepts! For some reason! Then he comes back and is shocked to find Homer’s ripped the organ out from the church and put it in his backyard. That’s our craaaaazy Homer! I don’t understand how any character tolerates him anymore, I really don’t.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Jokes feel so clunky now. There’s an NPR radio contest to give away tickets to some foreign film, and Lisa frantically calls in, thinking there will be many, many others doing the same. Then we see the broadcaster, after prattling on for a few more seconds, stop dead in her tracks (“Holy crap, someone’s actually calling!”) As well as a giant red flashing “INCOMING CALL” sign. So laborious and so obvious. Compare this to “Radio Bart”: Homer watches the Superstar Microphone commercial and hears supplies are limited. “Limited?!” He frantically dials and asks if there are any left. Then we see a disinterested employee with an entire warehouse full of boxes, shot at a bit of a low angle only to emphasize how many he has. “Yeah, a couple.” It takes half the time, and even if we can predict the joke, it’s still funny for other reasons.
– Flanders takes a bath in a bathing suit. Why? “So I can’t see my own shrinky-dink!” I sometimes think what characters would be like if they were created at this point down the line. Flanders would be some kind of celibate weirdo who’s afraid of his own dick. How did he have two kids if he can’t look at his fucking penis?
– The satire at the beginning is so lame. Foreign films are weird! And of course Lisa eats it up as a pretentious liberal arts student, and not an eight-year-old girl (“It’s Albanian, but the producers added subtitles to make it commercial.”)
– I do like Milhouse’s incredulous reaction to the dirty website (“Two girls? Who would want that?”)
– Homer fesses up to Flanders, who then presumably boots the two girls as soon as he finds out, and then all of a sudden there’s a huge crowd there hooting and hollering as they go. Why do all these people care exactly?
– When the writers get stuck in a corner where they have to make the family angry at Homer, and perhaps then he’ll realize he did something wrong, the solution is to make him brain dead (“You’ve totally humiliated the best friend the Simpsons ever had.” “You’re right. But you know who the real victim here? Ned.” “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you!” “Oh, yeah.”) Then Homer finds Flanders’ note that he left and cries to the heavens (“He’s gone! And it’s all someone else’s fault!”) Wonderful.
– Humbleton is boring and weird. If they were so viciously against Flanders’ mustache, enough to make the front page of their newspaper “Hair Fuhrer,” why don’t they kick him out? And why doesn’t Flanders leave, given so much scorn?
– Jason Bateman, a funny guy and a great talent, is wasted with two lines on ten seconds of a stupid TV parody. I think this is right off of Arrested Development too, and the thought of that being cancelled while this garbage is still being aired makes my blood boil a little bit.

Also, after a brief hiatus, I’ve kicked my DreamWorks blog back up again, starting with the fantastic Kung Fu Panda. I don’t know if anyone even reads it, honestly, but I’ve mostly just been enjoying watching these movies over again. Which is most than I can say for this crap series.

354. Thank God, It’s Doomsday

(originally aired May 8, 2005)
For an episode about the apocalypse, this show feels rather meek and unsure of exactly what it’s trying to say, or what it’s trying to be. It’s another one of those “stuff that happens” shows; there is a somewhat coherent story here, but no real emotional undercurrent or meaning to it. After seeing a Christian scare-tactic film “Left Below,” Homer starts fearing the seemingly inevitable apocalypse. Through an absurd and baseless calculation, Homer deducts that the end of the world is coming next week, and makes it his mission to warn others. By another ridiculous contrivance, everyone believes his nonsense, including the family, and head out to Springfield Mesa to await the rapture. Of course it doesn’t come, and everyone decries Homer for it. Homer then realizes he made a mistake in his equation, and goes out alone for what he believes to be the accurate rapture… and he was right. Seemingly. But he realizes Heaven just isn’t Heaven if his family is suffering, and creates enough of a ruckus to make an exasperated God undo the apocalypse and put things back as they were.

The people of Springfield are a gullible bunch, of course, so I can buy them following Homer on his absurdly unfounded holy crusade, but here it doesn’t feel like it adds up. The predicated “stars falling from the sky” coming true as a blimp full of celebrities crashing to Earth is a cute gag, but as the basis of the entire town suddenly believing Homer, it comes off as flimsy. So in the end, Homer goes off to Heaven, or does he? I refuse to believe that it actually happened; like “Homer the Heretic,” he only bears witness to God in his dreams. Ultimately the point of all this is that his satisfaction of being right is no consolation for the loss of his family. But the episode really wasn’t even about that; we feel for Homer in some regard, but none of his actions of trying to save everybody were really targeted toward his wife and kids. Earlier he admits it’s self-serving for him to warn people about the apocalypse, that hopefully that will count as his good deed to get himself into Heaven. Then when he comes to with Marge and the kids there, he quickly excuses himself so he can go get a beer, so the family angle is deflated immediately so we can have a Last Supper at Moe’s sight gag to go out on. A serious, meaty topic contained within an empty, purposeless outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess the Baha Men must have recorded another song when they were in for “Large Marge.” But that was almost two seasons ago. I bet they just thought of the brilliant “Who Wants Their Hair Cut?” song, and then left it aside with a note to write it in to another episode. But here it makes no sense. Bart and Lisa get botched haircuts, and try to avoid Skinner and other kids on a field trip looking for great snapshots. So I guess they just skipped school? Lisa wouldn’t stand for that. They and Homer hide in the movie theater, and then I guess just sit down at a screening, presumably without paying. Seamless transition.
– “Left Below” starts out well enough (newspaper headline: Permissive Lifestyles on Rise, Bible Mocked), but gets too heavy-handed in the end. I guess that’s the point, but it felt like a bit much (“Why did I put my faith in science and technology?”)
– I’m surprised they bothered explaining how Bart and Lisa got their hair back. Marge keeping their hair snippets in the freezer to make them new weaves felt like just the right amount of disturbing to remain amusing to me.
– For an episode about divine retribution and the end of days, there’s no Flanders in here at all, save one shot where Homer tries to keep him away from his apocalypse planning session. Then later he ditches his father; the show is apparently about Homer wanting to save his family, but he leaves his father to die horribly. Great guy, huh?
– Another instance of Marge saying, “I’m so proud of you, Homey!” for no reason whatsoever. Why does she believe her husband’s complete and utter bullshit all of a sudden?
– I guess Homer’s so dumb, he doesn’t even know what the planet Earth looks like. The man’s been to outer space, I think he would remember it.
– Homer blowing up the Heaven concierge’s head is extremely similar to a bit from the comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac where Nny does the exact same thing. I’m not saying that they stole it… but I think they stole it. It makes no sense for Homer to want to do that.
– The only stuff I really like here are all the bits with God; His big office and pointing to His traumatized son. The idea of Him wanting to placate Homer just to get him out of His hair is also funny to me. There’s also more uncomfortable handling of Homer’s drinking: God Himself tells him He’s concerned about his alcoholism, and the one favor Homer asks of Him is to reopen Moe’s so he can go get hammered.

353. A Star is Torn

(originally aired May 8, 2005)
Beyond some psychopathic Homer characterization and its dull-as-dishwater premise, this is actually a pretty nice Homer-Lisa show. Its trappings are kind of odd, but I found I could forgive most of it as the core of the story was so sweet. Through an ultimately inconsequential opening, we learn Lisa has a pretty good singing voice, and when Krusty announces he’s holding a “Li’l Starmaker” competition, the family urges her to compete. She ends up high in the running, with Homer as her coach and song writer, which is logical considering his history with the BeSharps. The competition is clearly an American Idol knock-off, which they openly joke about, because the rule now is that if you steal an idea, just admit you did and it will be funny. The fact that it’s being held by the hacktacular Krusty saves it a bit though, even though I’m not sure why he’d hold a competition like this. Idol winner Fantasia Barrino guest stars as Lisa’s top competitor… except not really. Her fantastic rendition of the song Lisa sang earlier ends our first act, making it seem like she’d be a big part of the plot, except she’s not at all. She sings that song, then we don’t see her again until she’s eliminated from the top three.

Homer becomes a ruthless stage dad during Lisa’s tenure on the show, but there’s not much reason to it. He just straight out attacks people without engaging in a dialogue with them, culminating in him strangled Pimply Faced Teen in front of his family, threatening to kill him. He’s a ruthless sadistic maniac, but only made slightly less bothersome that his motivations in wanting to help Lisa are pure. The third act focuses on the rift created between the two of them. Homer has now agreed to coach Lisa’s competition Cameron, a petty, childish move from Jerkass Homer, but surprisingly we see glimpses of how broken Homer is. The scene where he sheepishly gives his daughter advice on stage while rehearsing with Cameron is unusually touching; his timidness there compared to his insane rage earlier is so stark, but for some reason it works for me. For the finale, Lisa sings a sentimental song for her father, then Homer reveals he’s sabotaged Cameron with a ballad insulting the audience, much to Lisa’s delight. Despite some weird elements, this has got to be the most emotional episode I’ve seen a good while. Two good episodes in a row? What is this madness?

Tidbits and Quotes
– Not a fan of how casually the Simpsons react and do nothing to Apu being robbed at gunpoint. Then they frequent Cletus’ vegetable stand right by the curb. I feel like if they were going that far, they should have went all out and had a gunshot and a body hitting the floor, while the family continues to do nothing. Then later we see Apu and Snake during Fantasia’s song, and he could have bandages on his abdomen and they hug. Also, Cletus and Brandine are so unfunny at this point. Every time they show up, I know what the joke is. He holds up that burlap sack, I knew there were going to be babies in it. In the “Snitch” show, during the Shelbyville musical with the bum Springfield caricature, Lisa comments that it makes Springfieldians look like hicks. Who do we pan to? Cletus and Brandine. It’s all become so obvious now.
– The winner of the competition gets animated into an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Lisa dreams of what that would be like, and wouldn’t you know it, she complains about animal cruelty and promotes PETA! Again, these set-ups make it easy to predict jokes.
– The girl.. .what’s her name… who cares, Fantasia is supposed to be like ten, but she sounds like an adult. They couldn’t have raised the pitch up a little in post or something? It doesn’t matter, this all just smells of FOX cross-promotion anyway. But it’s nowhere near as egregious as later on when they actually do American Idol and have all the judges on, including Ryan fucking Seacrest. I’m happy to say I’ve never seen that episode. Very happy.
– It’s bothersome how insane Homer acts, but it’s one of those things where it’s so over-the-top and ridiculous, I don’t really hate it completely. Plus the jokes along with it are pretty good (“You don’t need to help me by humiliating people!” “Oh-ho-ho! You love sausage, but you hate to see it getting made!” “I don’t love sausage!” “Then would you like to see it getting made?”) Then later when everyone gets out of the car and hoofs it, Homer screams like a maniac, “Wait, come back! I’m calming down!!!” and drives off with the doors flapping open. Then we cut back to the house and the doors are still open. It’s bipolar Homer, but it still permeates as funny to me.
– Lisa’s song at the end is really touching, and then Cameron’s is wonderful as well, an incredibly pompous, fuck-you to the audience, “Privileged Boy” (“Then I’ll go to Yale, because I am a legacy! I’m better than you!”)

352. The Heartbroke Kid

(originally aired May 1, 2005)
The season’s almost over, but surprise, finally an episode that I can say I enjoyed overall. It’s got problems to be sure, but it’s a simple enough story packed with enough gags, and one of the greatest guest stars returning for another go definitely boosts it a lot in the third act. New vending machines crammed with terribly unhealthy snacks arrive at Springfield Elementary, and no one eats them up more, literally, than Bart. It isn’t long before he becomes rather obese, and ends up suffering from a heart attack. Now for Bart to get this fat, you’d think Marge would have said something, rather than just relent and give in like she did earlier in the show, but I’m sure she must have done something. The second act shows her efforts to get Bart to eat right, but then we see he’s got junk stashed in his room, and he disposes of his healthy food in favor of snacks at school, it all works and makes sense for the characters. Eventually the family holds an intervention, and when that proves to be a bust, carts Bart off to fat camp.

Said camp is run by Tab Spangler, Marine Corps retiree, and voiced by Albert Brooks, the first character he’s voiced in eight years, and goddamn did I miss him. Sure, Spangler isn’t really as memorable as Jacques or Hank Scorpio, but he’s just as insane and hilarious as you’d expect a Brooks character to be; almost every line of his completely works (“Son, I’m gonna tell you a story, about a young man who came here and failed. Well, that is the story. I shouldn’t call a sentence a story. Anyway, it’s you!”) To pay for Bart’s treatments, the family opens up the house to a youth hostel, where they’re quickly overrun and run ragged by pushy German backpackers. It’s kind of an odd, but works when Spangler takes Bart there to show him the cost of his actions. To make things right, Bart returns to the school, destroys all the vending machines and takes the money that comes out home to the family. And Marge just takes the money, no questions asked. But honestly, even though it’s not played up as big, I can see her putting her morals aside for a moment just to get those backpackers out of her hair. Then we end on some great ad-libbing with Brooks and Castellaneta. So finally, a good show from season 16, and with only five left to go! Just under the wire…

Tidbits and Quotes
– The show starts with some good old fashioned Skinner ass-kissing (“It’s not my birthday, Seymour, you know I’m a Sagittarius.” “Really? I’m a Libra. There’s a lot of compatibility there.” “Skinner, be gay on your own time.”)
– Scammer & Z-Dog are great representations of what marketing executives think is hip and that kids will identify with. And it works, because Springfieldians are a manipulative bunch (“And a subsonic neuro-jammer disrupts the child’s judgement center!”)
– The writers seem to acknowledge Lisa’s new role on the show by having her yell into a “Li’l Agitator” megaphone to protest about the unhealthy snacks. Of course this doesn’t excuse it, but at least they’ve finally lampshaded it.
– Homer’s daydream of Marge being a killer robot is really bizarre, but it’s saved when we’re back to reality (“I repeat, no one is getting replaced by a machine, until all the kinks are worked out.”)
– I love the three weeks later montage, recreating the opening titles except with a fat Bart, whose skateboard cracks the concrete, he bends the lightpole he swings around and knocks everyone on the sidewalk down. The pauses as the music waits for Bart to continue are great, when it pans outside the school, and then when the family rushes onto the couch and wait for Bart to stumble in. Also it seems like they got Brooks to do a line for Jacques, yelling, “Careful!” when Bart runs over his foot.
– I liked Homer crying for his son to do the Bartman as he seemingly just had a heart attack. It’s a joke, but it also works as concern of a father wanting his stricken son to get up and move. It makes more sense that Homer wailing about Thanksgiving for no apparent reason after thinking his son had been kidnapped.
– Great appearance by Dr. Hibbert, unlike last episode (“Bart had a heart attack, and it’s his own damn fault! These dark spots in his pulmonary arteries are malted milk balls!” “His liver looks healthy.” “That’s a wad of Laffy Taffy.”)
– The Itchy & Scratchy cartoon is way too long for too little payoff. I do love Krusty and his chest zipper though; seeing him bleed profusely on stage weeping while Sideshow Mel stands there unsure of what to do is fantastic.
– Bart’s stash of snacks and the scene of him tossing them in the air and them raining down on him is a parody of The Shawshank Redemption, which is one of those movies that has been on my list to watch forever. Someone comment whether this parody was good, it looked like it was.
– I just noticed when Bart gets off the bus, one car’s license plate reads ‘MANH8TR.’ Whose car could that be? Hmmmmm…
– The chariot that they’re pulled Spangler on is labeled “Chubby Chaser.” Excellent.
– Every Brooks line is amazing; I won’t quote them all, but here’s a few (“You’re lucky this is just a youth hostel. We had one family that had to take in dry cleaning. The chemicals killed their dog! Well, that’s what they told us in the lawsuit. I don’t see a dog living past fourteen anyway, do you?” “Strudel-sucking globbenheimer. You need to think about that. That’s what the human race thinks of you.”) And of course, the ending with Homer (“We got a long road ahead. You wanna pull off a hotel? We’ll split a room.” “Where will I sleep?” “We can worry about that when we’re standing naked before the bed! My goodness, no wonder you eat!”)