420. All About Lisa

All About Lisa(originally aired May 18, 2008)
We wrap up the season with a curious episode, one I really can’t figure out. A Simpson child becomes Krusty’s assistant, only to soon usurp his own fame for themselves. No, this isn’t “Bart Gets Famous,” though I wish it was. That episode felt like it was about something and had a purpose; this, I think I know what it’s saying… but it makes no sense given the characters it involves. Auditions are being held for a new “Krustketeer,” and Lisa tries to convince Krusty to hire Bart. This only ends up getting herself hired as his new intern, where she puts up with the clown’s demands. There’s even a scene that echoes “Famous” where Bart gets Krusty a bagel, except here it’s Lisa letting him use her necklace string as dental floss. The difference is while with Bart we saw him being run ragged by Krusty, calling him at school in a panic about burying a body, here, Lisa, I guess is working full time and is a great assistant, because nowadays Simpsons are perfect at everything they do. It isn’t long before Lisa takes Krusty’s show, because I guess she wants to be an entertainer now. Oh wait, she got the taste of laughter. That was supposed to be a thing, I suppose.

The episode is told with narration throughout by Sideshow Mel, the only good part of the show, if only because I love Castellaneta’s deliveries as the downtrodden thespian. He explains how Lisa got swept up in show business, neglecting to tell Krusty about an important network meeting so she could take his position. Act three opens and it’s the Lisa Show, with her now performing and managing her own production. Again, I guess she’s taken an extended school leave. This whole section moves so fast, I don’t understand why Lisa would want to do this, or even care about being a TV buffoon. No time for any of those explanations, because we need to cram in a worthless subplot where Homer and Bart collect coins. Very entertaining. Anyway, on the eve of an award night, Mel informs Lisa of the tragic tales of past recipients, himself included, and how far they had sunk for the sake of entertainment. Not wanting to suffer the same fate, Lisa shifts the spotlight back to Krusty and resumes her normal life. There’s nothing really aggravating about this one; it’s just rather confusing and empty.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The coin collecting subplot… okay. Despondent about not getting the Krusty gig, Bart sells all of his Krusty merchandise, in exchange for… an empty book for storing coins. He expresses no interest in it, but takes it anyway. He and Homer go off on a coin collecting spree and fill the whole book, save for one: the immortal double-print “Kissing Lincoln” penny. They discover it on auction, but are easily outbid by Mr. Burns. But of course since Burns is a doddering old buffoon, Homer easily swindles him out of it. And then the plot’s over. Rather than develop the main story and have it make sense, we waste precious minutes on this shit. Great job, guys.
– More bad CG with Krusty driving his car through the backlot. The characters look like they’re cardboard. How can they do 2D-3D integration so well on Futurama, episodes from almost a decade ago, but here it looks like shit?
– Mel ends his tour of the past with Lisa to his portrait. You can tell it’s him, but he ends his dialogue, “But that was before he took the bone…” His shadow casts over the portrait and we can see it matches. I like all that, it works. Then Lisa dusts off the plate, and reads it, “Melvin Van Horne.” Gasp! “Sideshow Mel! That’s you!” No shit. They could have had her just say, “Oh my God, Mel! How could this happen!” But no, let’s kill time and spell it out for the dummies in the audience as much as possible.
– I really don’t have much to say on this one; it may be one of the most innocuous episodes of the entire series. It’s just… nothing.

Season 19 Final Thoughts
One season left. One season left. I’m sorry, I’m sure all of this feels very redundant and repetitive at this point, it’s just there’s not really that much left to say about a lot of these episodes. The series has the same problems, they just keep getting a little bit worse each season. It’s a slight downward curve, but at least I’m almost at the drop-off point.

The Best
“Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind”

The Worst
“The Homer of Seville,” “Husbands and Knives,” “E Pluribus Wiggum,” “Papa Don’t Leech,” “Mona Leaves-a”

419. Mona Leaves-a

Mona Leaves-a(originally aired May 11, 2008)
“Mother Simpson” is a definitive Simpsons classic, one of the most heartwarming episodes of the series. “My Mother the Carjacker” cheapened things a bit, but mostly remained innocuous in more or less telling the same story over again. But this show… it turns Mona Simpson’s character and entire past on its ear, turning this farewell episode into hackneyed schlock and more or less shitting all over the good vibes established from “Mother.” Out of the blue, Mona just reappears at the Simpson house, asserting that she’s through running from the law and wants to be involved in the family again. The feds still think she’s dead from the events of “Carjacker,” so how exactly would this work? Anyway, Homer feels apprehensive about this, not wanting to get hurt again by his mother’s seemingly eventual re-abandonment. Unfortunately when his change of heart comes, Mona has already died. To make peace, Homer vows to accomplish her dying wish to release her ashes at a specified time from a tall rock formation… which ends up clogging the guidance system of a missile set to dump nuclear waste to the rainforest. Now the Simpsons have to stop this evil James Bond plot! What the fuck is this?!

I’m going to bypass the third act, because it befuddles me way too much to even try to analyze. We kill off Mona in this episode, but her character is completely sullied. If you’ll remember, she was a 60s radical fighting for change, but she was a caring mother first, always looking out for her little Homer. That’s why she left in the first place, to keep him safe from harm. Here, in one of the most infuriating scenes of the entire series, we see young Mona callously saying goodbye to her son for the night (“See you later, honey! Mommy has to go chain herself to a nuclear submarine. Hugs and kisses!”) Li’l Homer reaches out for a hug, but is rejected. Fucking. Terrible. Homer’s life only went to shit when he was left to be raised by Abe, but I guess he had a terrible, unattended childhood both ways now, I guess. And despite her selfless effort to keep her son from harm in the past, Mona has Homer sabotage that missile launch, which ends up getting him into harm’s way. He could have suffered the same hardships she did, and it would have been all her fault. Mona was a saintly mother figure, now she’s a rambunctious hippie leftist, akin to what Lisa has become now. Just a ghastly episode, trying to elicit emotion from an untimely death, but completely betraying the character they’re killing in the process.

Tidbits and Quotes
– What a terrible title, first of all. One of the worst ever, I think.
– We start at the mall at “Stuff-N-Hug,” another transparent pop culture surrogate. Lots of jokes to be made about Build-a-Bear, are there? Not really.
– “Mom, I can’t believe you’re here. You keep appearing and reappearing and it’s not funny! You’re just like that show Scrubs!” Again, guys, pot to kettle. Also, what a clumsily written line.
– Glenn Close just sounds tired as Mona, which I guess makes sense given her imminent demise. But not even death will keep her from the writers scrounging her character back up one more time, I think in that Inception episode where Homer keeps wetting the bed. Thank God I don’t have to watch that one.
– The moment where Homer finds his mother dead by the fireplace at the end of act one is a little chilling; I just wish there were a more serious, competently written episode surrounding it. Then act two begins with Homer at the funeral home sobbing, “My mother’s dead!” It’s one of those exposition lines you get after a commercial, but I feel it could have been accomplished in a more natural way.- Homer tries to find solace with his friends, but to no avail. Apu talks about reincarnation, while Ned is very compassionate (“Look, Homer, people don’t come back as anything, except for our Lord, who came back as bread, that’s it.”) Then it becomes a pissing match between Apu and Ned; what a wacky religious odd couple! Two more dead characters.
– Homer climbs the mountain to fulfill his mother’s last wish, or rather, he makes it part way up having Marge carry him (“Marge, your back is so sweaty! I’m starting to slip off!”) Class act.
– The third act… God, who cares. It ends with the secret base exploding and Homer flying out with an English flag parachute for no discernible reason or explanation, and him believing if he adds water to the ashes, Mona will come back to life. Then we end with a montage of clips from past Mona appearances. For some reason, I’m annoyed by them adding new animation of her kissing young Homer goodbye and walking out of the room, right before the old clip from “Mother Simpson” of sleeping Homer’s face as the door closes.

418. Any Given Sundance

Any Given Sundance(originally aired May 4, 2008)
The Simpsons take on Sundance! Too bad South Park did it over a decade earlier sharper and smarter, and that episode ended with a tidal wave of human feces. So, yawn, Lisa takes up filmmaking, a hobby she becomes enamored and proficient with instantaneously, but this phenomena is nothing new. Encouraged by Principal Skinner, who lets her use their high-tech editing bay I guess the school can afford, Lisa gets to work on a full film, a documentary about her dysfunctional family. She submits it to Sundance, it gets accepted, and her film  becomes a big hit, although its depiction of the family is not so favorable. Along the way, Skinner and Chalmers masquerade as movie big shots for no explainable reason, and independent director Jim Jarmusch appears to namedrop some of his movies that most of the audience hasn’t seen, and read lines on a script page to help Lisa with the dilemma she created for herself, leading to yet another non-ending.

So what’s our commentary on Sundance? They’re snooty, anti-Hollywood folks who appreciate what’s off-brand and bizarre for its own sake… s’about it. The end result is Lisa’s film ends up being way too personal and depressing, with the Simpsons as a broken family. Every time the show tries to paint them this way, it’s usually only showing Homer being a raging madman, one you can’t imagine that Marge and the kids haven’t run away from years ago. Lisa put together and edited the film without her family’s approval regarding the content, and she feels guilty about making them feel bad. But Jarmusch appears, praising her work, and ultimately shows her that there are families that are far worse off than hers, so she shouldn’t feel so bad. Was that the conflict? The episode was never really about Lisa’s rickety family life, so it doesn’t make much sense. Another failed attempt at social satire.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Lisa starts filming at a tailgate party seeing the beauty of everyday life. It’s her eye-opening realization of the creative possibilities of filmmaking, but it feels so sterile and lifeless… much like the rest of this show.
– This is more annoyingly smart Lisa, but I guess since the writers acknowledge that, it makes it okay (“What comes to mind when you think of drama?” “Well, according to Aristotle, drama contains six elements: plot, theme, character…” “Not the smarty-pants answer, I mean the drama in your life.” “Okay, but can I please finish the smarty-pants answer?”)
– Skinner concludes Lisa’s family is the source of drama in her life, and peruses through her files (“Your brother is Bart Simpson, one of Mrs. Krabappel’s 4th graders…”) What, is he reading official documents verbatim? Bart is the bane of Skinner’s existence as we’ve seen in episode like “The Debarted,” but for some reason here he speaks about him, and Edna too, like he doesn’t even know them. If anything, having Skinner exhibit a negative emotional reaction to Bart would help sell Lisa’s fractured family life. It’s such a bizarre choice to go with such a sterile read.
– Chalmers urges Skinner to submit Lisa’s film to Sundance (“The preeminent independent film festival held each January in Park City, Utah?”) Thanks for filling us in. They could have filtered that information and told it in a more natural way, or made a joke about the exposition drop, but… y’know, coming up with jokes is really hard work. Bad writing is a lot easier.
– The Sundance entry judges scene is the only moderately clever bit in the show, where they scan through submissions (“Paul Giamatti… is the world’s greatest super spy… who only exists in the mind of an overweight, agoraphobic jazz musician… played by Martin Lawrence in a fat suit.”) They gasp so loudly at Lisa’s entry that at such a high altitude at the summit, they all pass out, some even needing to be brought out in body bags.
– There’s a Shining shot as the Simpsons drive to Park City with ominous music… but there’s no payoff to the joke. It’s like they cut something out and forgot it left the joke hanging.
– Homer randomly knows who Jim Jarmusch is, and his gag involves being unable to eat an onion without crying. Funny?
– There’s lots of small moments in this episode that are just awful, over-explaining jokes making them even less funny. Marge deduces that jokes with innocuous titles like “Regularsville” contain racy content, so she must love “Chernobyl Graveyard”! She dashes in, and exits looking frazzled. That should be enough. Oh wait, she says, “I didn’t.” Really? I couldn’t figure that out from your haggard appearance. Later, Lisa tries to defend her film to the family saying it got butchered in editing. On screen, we see “Edited by Lisa Simpson.” But just to drive this home, we have a voice-over of her reading, “Proudly edited by Lisa Simpson!” This ruins the joke, and also vilifies Lisa even more.
– I honestly do not understand the “ChalmSkin” “subplot” where they’re approached by producers and end up acting like snobby big shots in front of John C. Reilly (yet another great talent wasted in a nothing part). If someone wants to decipher it for me, be my guest.
– Jarmusch’s dialogue is dreadful (“My movies, like Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law, are also about social misfits experiencing the dark side of the American dream.”) He’s not a very good actor, which is fine, but don’t give him a large amount of dialogue. I chuckled at his pathetic “Ow! That hurts!” when he literally fades out of frame at the end.
– “Life Blows Chunks,” Nelson’s film, is wrong in many regards. Firstly, Skinner trusts Lisa with his AV equipment, but Nelson? But most importantly, it’s nothing but a pale, empty imitation of “Pukahontas,” Barney’s film from “A Star is Burns,” tragic characters communicating their sorrow in film. But while “Pukahontas” was a brilliant send-up of art films, a logical, sorrowing, but ultimately hilarious character study, Nelson’s film just ends up feeling sad and hackneyed. The series seems to love making fun of Nelson for being poor and having a deadbeat mother, two unfortunate factors out of his control and I’m sure mirrors the situation of many, many kids out there. Barney’s alcoholism is a problem he created himself, and it’s a much different situation. A line like “Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead” is immortal, being self-consciously cliched, tragic and hysterical at the same time. But something like “I like to cry at the ocean, because only there do my tears seem small” is just plain shitty.

417. Apocalypse Cow

Apocalypse Cow(originally aired April 27, 2008)
Some have commented that it seems like the writers come up with the stupid episode title parodies first, then write the actual episode tenuously based on said title. In this case, I honestly believe the inception of this show was, “Bart says, ‘Don’t have a cow, man,’ so why don’t we give him a cow!” So they did, and cobbled together a bunch of stuff that can barely be considered a plot. Upon seeing Martin driving a cool harvester, Bart joins the 4-H club to drive one too, and ends up getting invested in doing farm work. Or something. Real exciting. He’s tasked with raising a calf to full health, and his reward in the end is seeing his full-grown bovine be first in line for the slaughter. This show has shades of “Lisa the Vegetarian,” where Bart grows remorse for this creature he’s eaten dozens of before, but shakes off any dietary qualms he may have in one infuriating scene with li’l preachy Lisa. It’s also akin to “Bart the Mother,” where Bart is in pathetic namby-pamby wimp mode, moping about the cow and its plight. It’s yet another example of how the writers seem to have no idea how to write Bart anymore.

Bart rescues the cow and offers it safety at Cletus’ farm, in the care of one of his daughters Mary, also a 4-H member. Unbeknownst to him, giving a young lady a cow is considering a marriage proposal to hillbilly folk, so to keep his cow safe, Bart must go along with this marriage, which neither he nor Mary want to go through with. Could he not explain the situation to Cletus? Nah, forget that. Plus, the marriage is in no way legally bound considering how young they are, so I’m not quite sure what the stakes are here. It’s all just a stupid farce that I could care less about. Then we cap things off with the cow being sent off to India thanks to Apu, and a high-larious sequence of Homer trying to escape the slaughterhouse factory floor. This episode is just empty. Empty of any believable character actions, clever jokes or commentary, interesting stories… it’s just a big, big vacuum of nothing. But it’s no different than most of the episodes nowadays. Twenty-seven shows left…

Tidbits and Quotes
– Trans-Clown-o-Morphs has nothing on the Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour
– Bart drives over a pile of manure with his harvester, and it spits out DVDs of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Zing! I’ll say once more, this show has lost its right to decry someone else’s quality. They’re probably just bitter that it made more money over the summer of 2007 than their movie did.
– Zooey Deschanel voices Mary, who I can commend for actually giving an honest performance with a Southern accent, and also because she’s Zooey and she’s adorable. Of course now they’ve brought her character back since she’s under the FOX umbrella with New Girl; who was once Cletus’ hick daughter is now a trendy New York musician! Or something! Whatever, who cares, fuck you!
– Bart hears animals moaning in pain in his sleep, and what he believes to be his conscious is actually just from a stereo Lisa planted under his bed to make him feel bad. Remember the end of “Lisa the Vegetarian” when Lisa learns that she shouldn’t brow-beat or vilify others for having different beliefs? Well fuck that, now she’s a loud and proud vegetarian, and wants everyone else to be too! This scene made me want to rip my face off.
– The only bit of the episode I liked is when Homer and Marge do a little sock puppet show to get Maggie to eat her spinach. It has nothing to do with the story, but it’s a nice little scene; when Lisa runs in so the plot can continue, Homer’s sock does a spit take. That sentence totally makes sense.
– I feel like we haven’t seen Apu in a long time. But in the one scene he’s in, he’s nothing more than a prop. Once the plane takes off, he just disappears when Marge calls Homer.
– Why the fuck didn’t Homer get out of that cow costume the second he was put on the conveyor belt? There are countless opportunities he could have escaped on his own, the entire ending is just fucking stupid.

416. Papa Don’t Leech

Papa Don't Leech(originally aired April 13, 2008)
In a feeble attempt to try to tie themselves into the classic years, the show in later years featured the re-appearance of many classic guest stars: Rabbi Krustofski, Artie Ziff, Mona Simpson (with a third outing in a few episodes), and now, Lurleen Lumpkin. This episode stands in stark contrast with “Colonel Homer,” and does all it can to tear down any emotional resonance from that show and replace it with incomprehensible nonsense. We start with Quimby announcing the town is broke, after discovering the town vault is completely empty, something he must have known about. At a town hall meeting, Lisa walks in announcing she’s gone through the town financial records, as an eight-year-old would do, and proposes a solution: reign in on everyone’s owed back taxes. Everyone agrees, but the only person they can’t track down is Lurleen Lumpkin, who has been missing for years. She hides out with the Simpsons, just ’cause, then they reunite her with her deadbeat father, just ’cause, who then steals her song and sells it to the Dixie Chicks, just ’cause. I can’t even write out plot points anymore without them seeming like jokes.

There’s so much I can tear this episode down for, and shall do in the tidbits section, but here’s what absolutely kills it for me. Lurleen mentions she’s been married thrice before, showing off photos of varied ethnic men who all look like Homer. Then at the end of the show we see a boorish Homer-like roadie Lurleen’s shacked up with, who crudely asks her for a hundred for beer. So the gag here is that she’s attracted to men like Homer, except here it’s retconned. She fell for Homer because he was kind and helpful, and selfless for helping her with her career, a real sweetheart. But modern-day Homer is none of those things: he’s a selfish, self-absorbed asshole. So all of Lurleen’s newly discovered failed relationships reflect this. Plus, her long lost father apparently destroyed her faith in men, which I guess is what drove her to be with these dickheads in the first place, which now includes the current incarnation of Homer. It might seem like I’m over-extrapolating off of small jokes, but this episode’s full of stuff like this, and it all adds up. These shows where they dig up the past just infuriate me; it’s like throwing an old friend into a lion’s den and seeing how much they get beat down.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This episode opens with one of the most distasteful things the show’s ever done. We see Grampa driving Homer at night when their car is cut off the road (by Patty and Selma, who are quite happy with this) and tumbles down a cliff. Grampa is seriously injured, and informs his son he’ll need to take care of him during recovery. Instead of call for help, Homer proceeds to smother his own father to death. And of course it was all a dream, a wonderful dream that Homer bemoans waking up from. I think this is a Sopranos parody, right? But parody or not, this is terrible. There’s a bit from one of the Family Guys I had the misfortune of watching where Peter has an elaborate dream sequence when Lois is talking to him of killing and burying her, but this scene is handled in such a dramatic and intense way, followed by Homer’s satisfaction of it that it seems so much worse. Why should I sympathize or relate to Homer one bit after something as horrible as this?
– At the town hall meeting, Homer (ugh) suggests the town fake a natural disaster and have FEMA fit the bill for helping them rebuild. This episode aired only a year or so after Hurricane Katrina. Does this seem… kind of terrible to anyone? Am I being too sensitive?
– Things turn sour immediately after Lurleen is reintroduced on TV, where Bart surmises the back story of her trying to seduce and screw his father. Why the hell would he know that?
– Beverly D’Angelo certainly sounds fifteen years from “Colonel Homer,” but in this episode she’s still 34, even though in-show they talk about how she’s been missing for years. Whatever. I still prefer when Doris Grau voiced her for one immortal line: “I spent last night in a ditch.”
– Homer speculates twice this episode about how he could get away with ditching his family. I’m just getting pummeled this episode with Homer hatred; why would he want to run away from his family? He loves them… doesn’t he?
– So Lurleen’s got a deadbeat daddy she hasn’t seen in forever. When we see him, what’s written on his shirt? “No Child Support.” Little on the nose, huh? So they’re reunited, and for some reason both of them start living with the Simpsons. That motherfucker has a house, we saw it, why doesn’t Lurleen go live with him?
– During Lurleen’s song we run through things that run with “patri-otter,” including Lisa saying she’s reading Harry Potter. Last episode we had Angelica Button. Writers, you need to pick one and stick with it, please.
– Lurleen’s father makes off with his daughter’s song, and in a time period unspecified, he contacts the Dixie Chicks, pitches them the song, they like it, they fly him out to wherever, edit the song, record it, release it, and it becomes a big hit. How did all this happen? Who the fuck knows. And it’s funny because they’re singing an ultra-patriotic song and praising FOX News following controversial comments they made… five years ago. The lyrics suck, but melodically the song, and them performing it, is the only good thing in the episode.
– When Colonel Homer stepped up, followed by “Major Marge,” …uggh. Fucking terrible. Terrible.