441. Coming to Homerica

Coming to Homerica(originally aired May 17, 2009)
So chalk immigration up as one more hot button topic this show clearly can’t handle. This entire episode is so hamfisted and obvious with its points, once again to the point where characters are just flat-out expositing the plot and their changing viewpoints. The show chronicles Springfield’s experience with an influx of immigrants. From where? Neighboring city Ogdenville, whose populous nearly all got laid off following a tainted barley snafu. We’ve seen the Ogdenville Outlet Mall, and of course this is one of the towns Lyle Lanley swindled with his monorail scheme, but now the town is full of Norwegian-esque types, kindly, naive hired hands that the people of Springfield quickly take advantage of. Then we see problems that Springfielders basically create for themselves (Bart getting hurt on his skateboard trying to show up an Ogdenville kid, Homer getting fired for showing up drunk on Aquavit) are blamed on the Ogdenvillians. I know Springfield is filled with idiots, but they should still remain sympathetic and likable to an extent. Marge hands Maggie over to a nanny (why she wants a woman in to clean the house and take care of the baby, her two most valued things in life, is beyond me), and is horrified to find her first words are in “Ogdenvillese;” she kind of made her own bed on that one.

How do we stop Ogdevillians to get in? Set up a border patrol, of course, with the most slovenly, intolerant, idiotic folks imaginable, and their leader will be the dumbest of all… Homer, of course. So it’s like “Homer the Vigilante” again, except not really because there’s barely any screen time devoted to their exploits. All we get to see if that they’re incompetent, and compare their jingoistic outlook to the KKK and the Nazis. Way to be subtle, guys. What’s our grand end-all solution? Build a wall across the border, but because that’s too much work, we’ll have the Ogdenvillians help us do it. While building, we see the two sides talk to one another, and we see how they actually relate to each other and get along real well, in an embarrassingly on-the-nose sequence (even more so when Flanders blatantly says, “Maybe we’re not so different, Sven.”) They finish the wall, then the two sides make up and everybody’s fine. A real head-scratcher; everyone in Springfield is painted in such a bigoted, scornful light, and yet we have a big party at the end. It’s like when they make Homer an intolerable ass and expect you to still like him, but on some of these episodes, that disease has spread to the entire town. No, sir, I don’t like it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– More great “parodies,” as the Simpsons watch “The Drowningest Catch” on the Planet Channel. Though I did chuckle at the two guys being thrown overboard (“It was worth it to be on TV!” “Put our dying screams in the promo!”)
– Apu makes an appearance, because he can eat one of the new barley burgers as a Hindu, then he makes a silly Indian dance and leaves. Remember when Apu was actually a character outside being a convenience store clerk and from a foreign culture we can make fun of?
– So Ogdenville’s entire economy hinged on barley, and every single citizen was a barley farmer? They make things so exaggerated and one note nowadays that it’s impossible to take this kind of stuff seriously.
– So much on-the-nose dialogue (“You know, I’m glad you’ve come here to take all the jobs we don’t want to do. Can’t have too much of a good thing.” “This Ogdenville influx has been great for everybody!”)
– Homer shows up to work drunk, and gets fired. He then blames the Ogdenvillians for getting him drunk somehow. And Marge sympathizes (“Oh, poor Homey. And you with your alcoholism!”) I guess her being a spineless enabler is funny?
– Another Pixar reference as we see Carl’s flying house from Up float by behind Lenny and Carl. That’s really all it is, a reference, reminding me I could actually be watching far, far, faaaaaar better things than this piece of shit.

Season 20 Final Thoughts
And so, we reach the end of our final season. For almost an entire year, I’ve watched as this series I love so much has descended into that shallowest possible version of itself, and shockingly, it just keeps getting worse and worse each season. As such, season 20 boggled my mind. Boatloads of expository dialogue, inept attempts at humor, scatter shot characterization, the problems with these episodes are incredibly numerous. What shocked me was how many of these shows seemed so vacuous and devoid of anything really… happening. Things would happen in them, sure, but none of it seemed to really follow with any story or theme, or seem to have any purpose whatsoever. A lot of it just felt like twenty minutes of white noise. We’ve gone from the greatest show on television, and it’s been eaten away to… nothing. A show of just… nothing. I remember being quite beaten down after the run of HD shows when I first watched them. The thought of stopping had crossed my mind, but it was becoming more of a likely possibility after the finale. But I just wasn’t ready to quit. I’d give them another chance with season 21, I thought. However, as it turned out, my tenure would soon be up.

The Best
…yep, it finally happened. Out of the twenty-one episodes this season, I honestly can’t say I enjoyed any of them. That’s a good enough telltale sign that this would be my last season.

The Worst
“Mypods and Boomsticks,” “Lisa the Drama Queen,” “Take My Life, Please,” “How the Test Was Won,” “Wedding for Disaster”

440. Four Great Women and a Manicure

Four Great Women and a Manicure(originally aired May 10, 2009)
I thought I was done with these three story episodes… and I guess I was right. Now I’m stuck with one last four story episode, and it’s just as boring and lazy as anything else we’ve seen before it. It retells the stories, kind of, of four great women throughout history, both historical and fictional. First, Queen Elizabeth I (Selma) and her quest to find a suitable husband. Second is Snow White (Lisa) and the Seven Dwarfs, hilariously renamed to avoid a lawsuit from the Blue-Haired Lawyer. This follows along the lines of Disney style parodies we’ve seen in the past, where the only difference is the backgrounds and some characters have colored outlines. Third takes place in the “real world” where Homer is stuck playing a tree in a company theater version of MacBeth, and Marge, channeling the frustrated Lady MacBeth, urges her husband to murder his way to the top in the starring role, in a segment that feels like it would be more at home in a Treehouse of Horror. Lastly, Maggie portrays free-thinking architect Howard Roark, not a woman, from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. She’s voiced by Jodie Foster, and gives an eloquent speech about individualism, which I guess is supposed to be funny. It’s not. None of this is funny. And the stories feel even more rushed and fractured because there’s less time to tell them. But at least this is the last one of these shows I’ll ever have to watch, ever.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The wrap-around, as the title suggests, features Marge taking Lisa to get her first manicure. Lisa is as radically feminist as ever, staunchly against gussying herself up, and how women don’t need no men! Her telling the Snow White story ends with her being saved… by a lady doctor. Ugh.
– I’m usually not fond of when the exaggeratedly stereotypical Julio makes an appearance, but I did get a bit laugh out of Azaria’s performance of his final line (“Normally I love to see flaming dreamboats heading my way, but not like this, baby! Not like this!!”)
– Lots of “jokes” about bisexuality, with Selma remaining unclear of who she is professing her love to, Homer or Marge (!), and then the end with the dwarfs singing that they’re gonna make out with each other (“We’re bi, we’re bi, we’re bi!”) Because bisexuality is weird and we should make fun of it.
– Dwarf Moe steps forward to give a sleeping Lisa the kiss of life… and I’m very much creeped out.
– The third segment is incredibly uncomfortable. Nothing in it makes sense at all, why Marge would be so insane about Homer committing multiple homicides, why offing Mel would immediately give him the starring role, when everyone else in the play is a better actor than him. They even lampshade one of the dozens of logic lapses, where Homer questions why there’s a new review of the play printed every day listing the latest outstanding actors. Homer is apprehensive and reluctant about all of the killings, yet when he’s brutally doing so, he seems vicious and content about it. And the whole thing ends with him committing suicide rather than read. Great punchline.
– I guess if I had to pick, the fourth one is the best. It’s so hamfisted with the instructor (“Mediocrity rules!”) but the idea of this guy cutting Maggie down to the level of the other babies is kind of amusing (“Let’s see what your children have done, shall we? Don’t brace yourselves, you will believe your eyes.”)

439. Waverly Hills 9021-D’oh!

Waverly Hills 9021-D'oh!(originally aired May 3, 2009)
Another episode that seems to have some kind of premise… it just gets lost in a bunch of meaningless nonsense. Marge happens to witness firsthand what a shithole Springfield Elementary is and ponders what can be done. There happens to be a much better facility in a nearby city, so Homer and Marge decide to rent an apartment there so the kids can attend that school. Where is this? Waverly Hills, an affluent, tropical area with a parody theme by Weezer. Have you guessed what this is a “parody” of yet? The eponymous sign, the various buildings, the city hall, all modeled after actual areas in Beverly Hills. So, is this supposed to be funny or clever that they just Simpsonized this place and replaced some letters in its name? Then we get there, and we barely even focus on the school. We see that it’s very rich and over-the-top, and that Lisa isn’t getting straight A’s like she used to, and rather than embrace a challenge, she whines and bitches about it. And ultimately that’s partly why she wants to leave in the end. Every character is oh so likeable nowadays…

For the back half of the episode, more time is spent not at the school but with Homer, where the gag is that he’s like a single swinging bachelor and Marge is his new girl, who becomes more and more over-involved with his life, like when he gives him a key to his apartment, she cramps his style by redecorating. It’s a cute premise when the two were self-consciously joking about it (“So can I see you again?” “How about you, me and my wife have a two-way?”) But then it just keeps going, and it just feels weird; are they still fucking around or are they believing their ridiculous premise? But whatever, the other time is spent with a ludicrous Lisa story. After spending a bit establishing street cred in Waverly Hills, Bart, for some reason, tries to get Lisa popular, spreading a rumor that she’s best friends with tween pop star Alaska Nebraska. Again, whoever could that be a parody of? It’s not clear why Bart does this, or why Lisa allows the charade to go on so long, or what the point of any of this is, but at the end of the day, we’ve killed twenty minutes, and that’s good enough for this show as it is now.

Tidbits and Quotes
– On her morning walk, Marge is stopped and samples scienceWater. Once again, whatever could this be parodying?
– At the school, Marge sees a classroom with triple-decker desks, just as they will be in the future in “Lisa’s Wedding.” And speaking of random callbacks, in the quick shot of the telemarketing office the teachers work in, the Heimlich maneuver poster of the man choking up a whole lobster is on the wall, as seen in “Homer at the Bat.”
– More random singing, after Homer mocks Bart about losing his elementary school friends, he and Milhouse sing, “Stand By Me.” Why would Milhouse be singing if he’s going to lose Bart?
– And more references instead of actual parody or humor; the city inspector is based on Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, in that it’s just that character. He flips a coin, he uses a captive bolt pistol… there’s no joke other than it’s just this character that you recognize from that movie.
– Skinner is shocked to find Superintendent Chalmers meeting with the Waverly Hills Elementary principal. So was I, considering it seems that Chalmers is living at Springfield Elementary nowadays. This leads to a back-and-forth of the two and their fractured relationship, as if there wasn’t enough gay subtext between them already at this point.
– There’s an endless sequence at the act break of Bart running from Wiggum and the cops, tracking him down for not holding up his side of the bargain of going to Ralph’s birthday party. It’s a minute of pure unleaded time killer, since it has no point to the story at all.
– The Alaska Nebraska shit is completely pointless. There’s plenty to joke about regarding the Disney marketing machine, selling an image to impressionable preteen girls, the vacuous artistic content of these pop icons… but no, there’s literally no commentary about Hannah Montana or any of that stuff at all. It’s just a plot device for a Lisa story that makes absolutely no sense. And it’s subpar MAD magazine-type naming conventions too. Nebraska is voiced by Ellen Page, which makes it even more confusing, since her voice and candor don’t fit the character she’s playing. Is that supposed to be the joke? That she’s a bubbly pop star with a gruff, frank manner of speaking? Except we never see her perform or anything other than the one scene of her backstage. Oh, whatever.
– Homer plays Halo on Xbox! And also has a Wii! Oh wait, don’t you mean Funtendo Zii? Or Ybox? Fuck this shit.
– I love the ending, where we desperately wrap up all the loose ends as quickly and stupidly as possible. There’s really no reason for the Simpsons to go back, but we’ll manufacture some anyway. Lisa needs to escape from the girls who want her blood for lying about the Alaska Nebraska shit, a problem she created herself, Bart has no reason other than a joke, and Homer’s roommates stop by randomly to tell him that they hate him. Status quo, whatever would we do without you?

438. Father Knows Worst

Father Knows Worst(originally aired April 26, 2009)
So this is the show’s take on over-involved, over-protective parenting, and surprise, it’s actually a very creative, inventive satire! …just kidding, it’s over-the-top, blatantly obvious and absolutely not funny. So Homer decides he needs to get more involved in his kids’ lives. How do we get to this point? Simple enough; Homer gets serious burns on his tongue, needing a comically large cast put on it, then when removed finds his old taste buds burnt off, exposing new, extremely sensitive ones. Now with a painfully enhanced sense of taste, the only food bland and flavorless enough for his palette is what’s being served at Springfield Elementary. That makes him go to the cafeteria and learn his kids need help. What a hell of a ride. Wouldn’t something as serious as Homer, a man who lives to eat, discovering he can no longer eat anything, denote its own premise? Or at the very least come back into play at some point in the episode? Nope. Or, why doesn’t Homer get a bunch of meals in a Tupperware and eat them at work? Oh wait, he doesn’t go to work anymore. Whatever, this is already shit and the story hasn’t started yet.

So Homer meets a mother at the cafeteria who is hovering over her son, as she explains the plot of the episode to us, and manages to pin point what’s wrong with Bart and Lisa, because I guess she knows them. Bart is a drooling moron (literally) with no future, and Lisa is a loser outcast with no friends. Homer to the rescue! Everything is played so exaggerated and obvious, with parents huddled outside the classroom doors looking in, and the mother forcing her son to recite all the state capitals alphabetically. The light touch is gone; think back to the science fair in “Duffless” with the psychotic father usurping his son’s project (“I’ve worked too long and hard on this for you to screw it up now!” “But it’s got my name on it…” “Just stand over there. Over there!“) That’s one joke, and it summarizes the dynamic and parental outlook perfectly. Here is a whole twenty minutes that says nothing. Homer helps Lisa become a girly girl in a clique obsessed with decorating cell phones, Twitter and Facebook, but eventually admits she wants out (“It’s hard work staying this shallow.”) Then why did you bother to begin with? Homer also helps Bart build a model for a contest or something, and fucks it up and acts like a helicopter. Oh, whatever, fuck this noise.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This episode was written by Rob LeZebnik, his first show in an eight-year absence. What was the last episode he wrote? [looks it up] “Homer vs. Dignity.” Okay, that makes sense. I’m surprised they let him back in the building.
– I love that not only do we get single shots of all three rows of outdated carnival prizes, but we also get ADR of Castellaneta making reaction noises to each. Oh, and they’re dynamite jokes. Commie Swatter? To paraphrase Milhouse, whatever those writes are paid, it’s not enough.
– A “subplot” involves Marge discovering a door in the basement leading to a perfectly functional and pristine sauna. She found it after replacing the water heater, of which she’s replaced it many times. How did none of them know this room existed ever? Also, we see her lug the old water heater upstairs and throw it on a giant pile of old ones, pushing the floor down right over Maggie’s room. There’s numerous instances where we see Marge, or someone who’s not commonly an idiot, do something stupid like this; for some reason, everyone’s a moron if the joke allows for it.
– Homer strangling his son whilst spitting giant amounts of fire into his face is so uncomfortable to watch. Like, this is what they think is hilarious now. Clearly so, it’s all the movie was.
– Lisa lists off all the comically named foods from the cafeteria, and the writers lampshade their shitty puns with a joke about how they’re named by old sitcom writers working in the cafeteria. I can only hope the actual writers suffer a similar fate in the future. We also get more of Tress MacNeille doing Lunchlady Doris, which is always sad to see. Again, why didn’t they just create a new fucking lunchlady?
– The only bit I laughed at was when the mother was forcing her kid to recite capitals on her claps, we cut to Homer who is staring dumbly attempting to clap along with her. It’s so weird, it’s like he reverted to this full-on idiot mode, but it made me laugh all the same.
– I hate this episode. They make Bart out to be this braindead moron, shoving spaghetti in his nose and lying his head on the desk drooling. He’s not a dumb kid, he’s actually very sharp and perceptive, he just doesn’t give a shit about school or tests or anything of the like. Here, he’s just a big dummy, at least until the end where he’s forced to give the moral of the story and quote Oscar Wilde, because he knows who that is. Ridiculous.
– Homer pours a gigantic jar of mayonnaise into his mouth, complete with close-up of the gooey mess slithering down his gullet. It’s fucking nauseating.
– Homer sprays a bottle of what he thinks is spray-on tan (?!) all over his face, but it turns out it’s… ant poison! That wacky Homer!
– The episode feels like it’s just one long build-up to the punchline that Homer was so inept, his work got mistaken for a child’s, so Bart got the prize. What a waste. “Homer’s Enemy” had a similar punchline, but had a zillion other great things going on before it.

437. The Good, the Sad and the Drugly

The Good, the Sad and the Drugly(originally aired April 19, 2009)
Alright, what old episode are we rehashing this week? Oh, “Bart’s Girlfriend,” except if the first act was the entire episode with no interesting twist? Or anything interesting whatsoever? Greeeat. So here’s the story: Bart meets this girl Jenny, who’s a goody two-shoes good Samaritan, and must pretend to be good to get her to like him. That’s the episode. That’s it. In “Girlfriend,” we saw similarly with him trying to win over Jessica Lovejoy, but then it actually went somewhere. Here, it’s just… nothing. But I’m not even going to try to compare these two, because it would be way too unfair. So who is Jenny? Why, another celebrity-voiced one-off with zero personality to speak of, of course! She’s voiced by Anne Hathaway, and again, mighty fine actress, nondescript, forgettable performance. You could swap dialogue tracks with Natalie Portman from a few seasons back and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It’s just another throwaway role.

The “conflict” occurs when Milhouse discovers the two together; he had previously taken the fall from a massive prank at the school and gotten suspended, and finds Jenny is the reason Bart stopped visiting him. He then goes into creepy stalker mode, which totally fits him, as Bart gets more and more nervous that his mischievous past will come back to haunt him. So, build-up, build-up… and then Bart just comes clean with Jenny. Then he makes up with Milhouse and the episode ends. It’s astonishing just how uneventful these shows are getting; there’s barely anything to speak of because barely anything happens. There’s a B-story featuring Lisa’s pessimistic world view being quelled by happy pills, reducing her into a whacked-out stupor where she can only see smiley faces… and then in the end, she stops taking them. Like, stuff will start happening… and then they’ll stop happening. Stories used to have arcs that made sense and were impacting. Now we’re lucky if we even get one at all.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Last season we had Skinner and Chalmers go through absurd, ridiculous lengths to get Bart suspended. Here, they’re so dumb they can’t figure out who Milhouse’s accomplice was. Whoever could it be? Ridiculous.
– Ignorital: more obvious product names. Also, it’s not a lot of fun to see Lisa completely out of her gourd, and is a very, very subtle satire on mind-altering medication.
– Lenny visits his grandmother’s grave, which reads… “Lenny’s Grandma.” They already have the joke with him bringing the Duffman standee there, couldn’t they have just put a frigging name?
– I’m really at a loss here, this is one of the most empty, boring episodes I’ve ever seen. It may trump the astronomy show, actually.