486. The Ned-liest Catch

Original airdate: May 22, 2011

The premise:
Through sheer happenstance, Edna Krabappel crosses paths with Ned Flanders, and the two kindle up a relationship. With Edna creating tension for Bart next door, he tries to scheme up a plan to create friction in this new love affair.

The reaction: Didn’t we just have an inexplicable romance between two show regulars? It’s certainly not an impossibility for Flanders and Krabappel to develop a connection, but per usual, the relationship is barely explained and we never know why these two care about each other, ergo we, as the audience, don’t care either. Edna literally falls into Ned’s arms after she fell out of a window, and he just so happened to be walking by. They couldn’t even manufacture some kind of believable meet-cute for them? They have a lunch date, and then we just cut to a goofy montage of them being together. Why waste time developing character motivation when we can just blow over it with a montage? Edna likes Ned because he’s single, and nice, I guess? And Ned likes Edna’s laugh. That’s about all I can glean from this. The two of them together are just so dry that there’s not much to even discuss about it. The emotional climax involves Ned discovering how many partners Edna has had, and it weirding him out. I guess I can understand that, but it turns into a sanctimonious issue when the conclusion involves him “forgiving” her for her past transgressions. This is shades of the new ultra-religious Ned Flanders, browbeating and making subtle digs at non-believers rather than turn the other cheek. I could see it being a cute little bit of him feeling uncomfortable with someone so experienced, but as the climax of the episode? It reminded me of “A Star is Born-Again” where it all builds to Ned deciding whether he should have sex with that actress. I remember wishing that episode had dealt with its premise better, but at least it went somewhere and the relationship itself made a little more sense. Just like Fat Tony and Selma before it, the episode didn’t show me why these two characters cared for one another, and from this limp noodle of a show, we’re supposed to be impassioned enough to vote whether they stay together? Why gives a flying fuck?

Three items of note:
– The episode kicks off with Bart on an ADD-level spree of chaos in the gymnasium, which ends in Edna grabbing and slapping him. This shot is kind of weird in itself; she slaps him, the kids running around making noise immediately stop and stare at them. Edna acknowledges this, and then slaps him again. Her first strike was impulsive without thinking, but that second slap feels like an outlet of her years of repressed rage and frustration at her greatest challenge student. This incident could have been the basis of an entire episode, examining the relationship between Bart and Krabappel. Doesn’t that seem like such richer material to work with, rather than just squandering it as the first act to a limp meaningless romance? Of course, it all doesn’t amount to anything. Edna is sentenced to a “teacher holding cell” while her job is in limbo, and Bart, for some reason, takes the time to break her out. And she’s initially annoyed when he shows up too (“Haven’t you caused enough trouble?”) Earlier after the incident, we saw she was mortified about what happened, but now, the first time she’s seeing Bart again, she’s pissed? So the break-out goes bust when the ladder Krabappel is climbing out of breaks. We then see Bart run away and never come back, for no explainable reason. After he had gone through all that effort, including making a full-size Krabappel dummy to put in her place, he just leaves? I guess he had to so Ned could catch her and the episode would continue. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
– Comic Book Guy and Skinner are inexplicably at Moe’s to muse about how they used to bang Edna. Also there is Joey Kramer, who is all alone in his own booth with a cheese sandwich, completely unacknowledged by everyone else in the bar until he speaks up. If you’ll recall, back in the before time, in “Flaming Moe’s,” we had that great scene in the back of Aerosmith’s tour bus of Joey begging horny groupie Edna for his drumsticks back. So I guess this is another fan service attempt, where Joey looks back at the experience fondly, making hilarious references to Aerosmith songs in talking about the sex. Which sounds like a more clever use of a guest star to you?
– So, “Nedna.” The episode ends with Homer and Marge breaking the fourth wall and directly asking the viewers whether Ned and Edna should stay together. I really don’t know what these promotional stunt was born of, or what the point of it was, besides attempting to drum up some kind of interest in this shambling zombie of a show. Of course, the most knee-jerk comparison is “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, a tongue-in-cheek parody of one of the biggest cliffhangers in TV history. I was a mere child when those episodes aired, so all I have to go on are watching old commercials on the promotion of the two-parter, but the whole thing felt completely self-parodying and silly, especially when you finally get the reveal that the real shooter is something that no one could have seen coming. With Nedna, there’s no joke to it, there’s no twist, no commentary, just whether these two characters with no chemistry should get together or not. It’s like when they push and pull a will-they-won’t-they relationship in a bad sitcom for an attempt at ratings, but worse. I just can’t imagine what Simpsons fan would care about something like this. I’d look up to see if there’s any data as to how many people bothered to vote, but I don’t really feel like it.

One good line/moment: I think there was a line or two I chuckled at, but instead, I’d rather bitch about one last thing, a gag that I think typifies the state of this show now. An act begins with the school bell ringing, and all the kids run out, excited. Brief pause. Then the teachers run out, equally as excited. The shot is about eight seconds long. Does it sound familiar to you? In “Lisa the Simpson,” we had the exact same joke, but done a little differently. We get a similar shot of the bell ringing, but we see the kids and the teachers running out at the same time. And the shot is half the length at just four seconds. It’s much shorter, and also funnier, because it implies that the teachers didn’t waste any time booking it and are just as eager to leave as the students, if not more so. It’s not one of the show’s subtler jokes, but it happens kind of quick that it could be a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it type joke. Nowadays, it’s like the show doesn’t feel it can risk any jokes that aren’t make explicitly clear and emphasized, and a lot of times, potential gags that could be funny are ruined either because there’s too much set up or they last way too long. Also, as we see time and time again, the show goes back to the well, consciously or unconsciously, to revisit old plot lines and jokes, but they all feel like pale, lifeless Xeroxes that don’t get what the point of them was. That shot of everyone leaving the school is a perfect example: by doubling the length to pad time, you mess with the timing, and the joke is nowhere near as funny. This series is just full of these moments now.

485. 500 Keys

Original airdate: May 15, 2011

The premise:
The Simpson family dig through an old drawer filled with the brim with old keys and all go on their own mini-adventures to see what they open, the most prominent of which involving Lisa uncovering a mystery at Springfield Elementary.

The reaction: I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of this episode as I was watching it, waiting for an actual plot to kick in. I’m still not entirely sure, but it feels like they tried to do something in the vein of “Trilogy of Error,” but instead of three plots running concurrently, it’s basically one plot with three other teeny tiny plots that serve as deus ex machinas for the main plot. The primary narrative is Lisa discovering a hidden room underneath the school, an immaculately advanced classroom, but everything in it is fake. As more clues are gathered and testimonies are heard, it starts to unravel, but it’s all just really really boring. And the reveal is just as dull: the school lost their grant money, so they had to create a farcical photo shoot to make sure they didn’t come under scrutiny. And then told Otto to drive a bus full of rented dummies back to the store… except he sank the bus, and thought they were actual children. So what was the plan, exactly? It doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, Homer breaks into the Duff Brewery and steals the Duff Blimp (a “Lisa the Beauty Queen” callback?), then he just flies it, and then picks up Lisa toward the end. Bart tries to cause mischief with a bunch of keys and fails, and that’s it. The worst is Marge, who’s left with a key for a flatulent wind-up toy that ends up traveling across the whole town. Marge could easily outrun it, or bend over and pick it up, but instead she just follows it everywhere. And eventually it knocks over a tree that saves Homer and Lisa. So look, they all connect! Set-up! Pay-off! I remember thinking that Da Vinci Code mystery episode a few seasons back was kinda unremarkable, but it’s a thrill ride compared to this. Zzzzzz…

Three items of note:
– For the opening gag over the clouds, we get the grand reappearance of Hank Scorpio flying in a Globex Jet, voiced by Albert Brooks. One of the greatest and richest characters ever to come out of the series, returning thirteen years later, his awesomeness diluted to a quick three-second goof done in the name of fan service. Look, it’s Hank Scorpio! Slap your fins together, you neckbearded superfans!
– Chalmers tells Skinner that he oversees fourteen schools, which could have fucking fooled me. This whole season, he’s been glued to Skinner’s hip, in school and out. I get that’s the “joke,” and I know I’ve mentioned this many times, but his character’s presence has been completely diluted at this point. When Chalmers would show up and yell “SKINNER!!”, you knew shit was about to hit the fan. His appearance meant something was gonna happen, and his interplay with Skinner would be really funny. Now, the two just show up as a poor comedy act/codependent relationship, or whatever the fuck.
– The dramatic climax is particularly confusing and annoying. Homer and Lisa splash down into the lake with all the other mannequins, and then after staying afloat to do a back-and-forth joke, then sink under the water and are apparently trapped under there. But… there were only like 25 mannequins. And we see at least two shots where there’s only like a small mass of them. Just swim around them. You can easily see open water, just swim around them. But it all happens so quickly and haphazardly that I can’t even tell for sure that we’re supposed to think Homer and Lisa are in grave danger. Soon after they go under, we get that goddamn pooter toot thing that comes in and saves the day, so I’m not sure if I was supposed to be worried or not.

One good line/moment: The returned wedding cake outlet “I Don’t” was a surprisingly amusing set piece. Like, it may be the most clever thing from this whole entire season. But then for some reason, they decide to have a thrilling minute-long action scene after that with Homer driving home on a cliff edge. Ugh.

484. Homer Scissorhands

Original airdate: May 8, 2011

The premise:
Discovering he has a natural talent for cutting hair, Homer opens up a salon, but quickly becomes fed up with his female clientele’s never-ending chattering. Meanwhile, Milhouse puts his heart on the line for Lisa, and is promptly rejecting. When he quickly finds new affection, Lisa becomes suspicious, wondering if this new girl has an ulterior motive.

The reaction: I assume the impetus for this episode was one of the writers saying, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Homer was great at cutting hair? Y’know, because he has no hair? Get it?” So not only is this yet another “Simpson becomes an instant success” episode, but it’s almost like a parody of itself, as Homer appears to be impulsively and supernaturally gifted to the point that his insane talents torture him. It almost could have worked on an absurdist level if the premise hadn’t been so stupid. Let’s just go along with the fact that either Homer is insanely gifted or that every other hairdresser in town sucks, that the women are literally throwing themselves through windows for Homer to do their hair. Dumb, but alright, whatever. Then we get to why Homer gets fed up and wants to quit; women be gabbin’ so much that he just can’t cope with it! You know how women get, right, guys? Then, for some reason, all of the husbands are at Moe’s, and Homer is haunted by knowing about their character flaws and foibles from their wives? Why would that matter? He’s not friends with Lovejoy or Wiggum or Skinner, what does it matter that he knows this stuff? So the story ends with Marge helping Homer weasel out of his predicament, by showing up dressed to the nines at a big gala ball and convincing everyone that Marge’s jaw-dropping new ‘do was done by another stylist. Who? Why, Julio, the flamboyant stereotype, of course! We just saw him earlier in the season, what happened to him? Maybe the episode could have featured him going to war with Homer after losing his customers. Or something. So what happened in this episode? Homer discovered he was naturally awesome at something, and then got tired of all the money and attention, and then just stopped doing it. Exhilarating. This episode feels the farthest away from Homer’s initial characterization that I can think of: a dogged, none-too-bright everyman who gets spit in the face by life is now a gifted savant who is extremely popular and beloved, whose only conflict is his fame being too great. Blecccccchh.

Three items of note:
– Two discussion points for the B-plot. First, Milhouse’s new belle is Taffy, voiced by Kristen Schaal. This episode is sort of right at the cusp of her becoming big into voice-over; Bob’s Burgers had just begun, and Gravity Falls was but a year away. I absolutely, positively adore Schaal; she’s got an incredibly distinctive voice and personality, and is a phenomenal comic actress, and as happens to a lot of guest stars, she is absolutely wasted on a nothing character. Who is Taffy? Can one even come up with one character trait she has? Why does she love Milhouse? Why does she randomly break up with her at the end? None of these questions are answered; Taffy barely gets enough lines as it is. Remember girls like Allison or Alex Whitney? They were real people with specific personalities that made sense in their own stories. Taffy is just a utility to this Lisa-Milhouse will they-won’t they bullshit, and a criminal misuse of Schaal. So secondly, this whole thing between Lisa and Milhouse. Was their kiss supposed to be fan service? Is this just like the writers’ collective wish fulfillment, since they were probably all little Milhouses in their youth? (to be fair, so was I). Lisa has never been interested in him (except as a big sister, of course), definitively states that to him at the beginning of the episode, then at the end, kisses him and says to never give up. I just read this as more waffling to keep the status quo. It’s not like they’re going to explore Lisa’s conflicted feelings or anything, it’s just an exercise in futility. But whatever, look! He said the “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” line! Remember that? Forget the fact that he was caught by a magical eagle for some reason! Remember that great line you fans love? Do you ‘member? Oooh, I ‘member!
– As usual with these shows, there are a lot of jokes that run twice as long, if not longer, than they need to. The whole bit at the start of the B-story of Milhouse discovering the real beginning to Finding Nemo feels like a really belabored joke, it feels like it takes too much explanation to get to the punchline. It also of course supposes you’ve seen Nemo, otherwise it makes absolutely no sense. Another mash note to Pixar, I guess. Also interminably long and ear-piercingly aggravating were Milhouse’s theremin ode to Lisa and Wiggum making his incredibly annoying noise.
– Let’s talk about the timeline of this story. Wiggum confronts Homer during the day about doing his wife’s hair for the policeman’s ball that will take place that night. He says “tonight.” Homer has closed his shop for good, but I guess Wiggum made that annoying noise and it forced him to reopen. Next scene is Lenny walking in to a completely full store to talk to a despondent Homer. What, is Wiggum holding a gun on him? To not only do Sarah’s hair, but keep the business open… for some reason? After that, it’s nighttime, where Lisa is doing her digging on Taffy, and Marge helps Homer plan their scheme to get out of his predicament. After that, it’s daytime where we see Lisa stalking Milhouse and Taffy, which she does all the way into the night. And then after that is the policeman’s ball. So that’s not “tonight,” that’s the following night. It seems kind of nitpicky written out like this, but if the writers don’t seem to care about the natural progression of the story and things making sense, then why should I as a viewer?

One good line/moment: The sign gag for the Policeman’s Ball, the Thin Blue Line-Dance was pretty good.

483. The Real Housewives of Fat Tony


Original airdate: May 1, 2011

The premise:
Selma meets of Springfield’s more notable residents at the DMV and the two are instantly smitten. Despite Marge’s hesitance about their relationship, the two get married. But then Selma finds out a terrible secret that shakes the foundation of… wait, why does this sound so familiar…

The reaction: Yeah, it would be impossible to watch this episode and not compare it to “A Fish Called Selma,” one of the greatest episodes in series history. But even without the compare and contrast, this show would be a nonsensical mess. So Fat Tony meets Selma at the DMV, why a powerful mob boss is there in the first place, I’m not entirely sure. They couldn’t come up with a joke reason for that? Anyway, Selma wins Tony over with her venomous insults and lack of fear about being killed… and I guess that’s it? So eventually they get married, and none of the Simpsons appear to have a problem with this. You’d think Marge would raise an objection to her sister being involved with a violent and dangerous man, but seemingly not. Her ire is only raised when she’s seated at a terrible table at the wedding, and at Selma’s constant haranguing of her about Homer. To win the affection of the Simpsons back, Fat Tony invites them out to his house out on the shore, where Marge and Selma bury the hatchet for no real reason. Selma just sits down next to her and says, alright, I guess I’m not mad anymore. With a scant three minutes to spare, we finally start getting to the ending, where Marge overhears Tony talking about Selma as his “goomar,” mafioso lingo for mistress. How does she know that? I guess she’s a big Sopranos fan. Confronting Tony about this, his wife conveniently crashes his car into the backyard, and he confesses that their wedding was a big lie; Selma is actually just his mistress, and the vows done in Italian confirm this. What a ridiculous and stupid ending. Also, didn’t we just have an episode this season where Tony is mourning at his dead wife’s grave? Although I guess that was Fat Tony, this is now Fit Tony. Oh whatever. I really didn’t even want to directly compare this to “Fish,” because it’s so unfair. In that episode, Selma and Troy McClure felt like real people, and we understood what they both got out of their relationship. Even when she realizes their marriage is all a showbiz scam, Selma accepts it for a perfectly logical reason, at least until the very end when it gets pushed too far and she leaves, again for a logical reason. There’s none of that in this episode. Selma marries Tony because at this point that’s the joke with her character, she gets married a lot, they make several jokes about it. And Tony I guess just wanted a broad to fuck on the side. We don’t care about either character in this non-relationship within this non-story. Just terrible.

Three items of interest:
– The B-plot is very dull, up until the end at least. Lisa discovers that Bart has a nose from sniffing out truffles in the woods, which restaurants will pay top dollar for. Such an odd premise. So this leads to her working her brother like a mule to get as many as possible. But why? What’s in it for either of these two, what do they want with the money? She gets so crazed that she blindfolds Bart and puts a muzzle and leash on him to lead her to her beloved truffles, which is pretty damn weird disturbing. Ultimately, it’s revealed that she’s been eating them herself, and Bart gives the last truffle to Luigi’s overworked hunting pig. The twist of the pig going nuts and eating all the other truffles from Luigi’s diners was a bit unexpected, but besides that, the rest was just sweet, sweet innocuous time filler.
– At the wedding, we get one shot of Selma’s daughter Ling in Patty’s arms. I’d forgotten all about her, as I’m sure most people have. The show clearly isn’t interested in budging one inch outside the status quo, evidenced no better this season with Fat/Fit Tony, so it’s odd to me when they have episodes that create big changes like this, and then proceed to do absolutely nothing with them. Selma has a daughter, which must have filled at least some of the hole in her life to feel loved and needed. Her desperation to find a husband could have been linked to her wanting Ling to have a father figure, or perhaps Fat Tony would provide her financial security for her child. It could have given an interesting and human connection to the story. But no; if remembered at all, Ling is essentially just a prop for Selma to hold in her arms, nothing but an afterthought.
– Once at the Jersey shore, Tony introduces his nephews and niece, who are facsimiles of the cast of Jersey Shore. The limp wristed parody involves making softball jokes about tanning beds, machismo behavior, and sub par MAD Magazine-level names like “The Occurrence” and “Tushie.” I’m almost surprised they didn’t just get the Jersey Shore cast on the show, why not, considering the show is just a guest star vehicle at this point. Though part of me feels like they think that Jersey Shore is too beneath them, so they took their sick burns at their expense. I hope that’s not it, that would be far too sad. It’s as pathetic as the show normally is with its attempts to be topical. South Park had done a Jersey show a year prior, in a much more inventive and scathing fashion.

One good line/moment: The couch gag was pretty good, with the abandoned video store being demolished. Although this was a few years prior, I also saw it a joint comment on the death of TV box sets. The Simpsons themselves called it quits at season 17 because the market dried up, which is pretty convenient for them. I can’t imagine that many people are clamoring to scoop this season up on Blu-Ray. At least I hope not.

482. The Great Simpsina

Original airdate: April 10, 2011

The premise:
Lisa stumbles upon the home of the Great Raymondo, an old jaded magician who begrudgingly agrees to teach her his old tricks. Becoming a magic natural, Lisa learns the secret behind Raymondo’s greatest illusion, only to accidentally reveal it to competitor Cregg Demon, a Criss Angel type.

The reaction: Oh boy, another “Simpson becomes an instant expert” episode. So much of this episode is just Lisa, or other magicians, performing tricks expertly with no mistakes. Where’s the entertainment in that? Lisa goes from doing a coin trick to causing Bart to cough up a giant pair of gardening shears in the same scene, I guess she’s just so smart that she becomes a seasoned professional in less than 24 hours. There’s no tension, no real investment to be had in any of this. Raymondo teaches Lisa his greatest trick, and then the next scene, she does it effortlessly. When Cregg Demon (terrible name) ends up stealing it, like, who cares? Upon performing it, he ends up sabotaged by a cavalcade of other magicians who hate him, which are basically just tick marks for the total guest voice tally at this point: Ricky Jay, David Copperfield, and returning guests Penn & Teller. The joke here is Teller speaking, but the show already did that joke, and much better, before (“I’m gonna kill you!” “He’ll do it! I’m not the first Teller!”) So Demon is drowning in the giant milk can for at least two minutes when four grown men try to attack and kill a little girl before Raymondo thwarts them and ultimately saves Demon. The episode ends with Lisa performing the magic show, and she of course does every trick flawlessly. What fun. There’s also a runner involving Raymondo’s old assistant/lover who’s dead, and the actual ending is him inhaling enough ether that she appears before him and the two dance. Like, what is this? The episode has these moments that are some trite and cliche, and they’re playing 100% straight. Earlier, before revealing his secret trick, Raymondo laments he never had children, but he’s glad he’s found a surrogate in Lisa. It’s such melodramatic schmaltz, and again, with no satire or subversion. The show is perfectly fine just going through these trodden motions and calling it a day. What a snooze fest.

Three items of note:
– I was shocked to find there were no theme song at all at the beginning, a first for this series. “Life on the Fast Lane” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts” went from the logo to the start of the show, but this one just started at the first scene. This is especially surprising given how much useless padding are in these episodes that they couldn’t cut this one to time. But come to find out, it takes three and a half minutes to get Lisa to Raymondo’s house. The opening involves the Simpsons ending up picking too many peaches, and then having to eat nothing but peaches. Certainly we can’t cut this absolutely spellbinding plot from the show. This is born from Homer not realizing that he had to pay for all the fruit they picked. So, why not just leave it there? There’s also padding within the padding with Jack McBrayer as a good ol’ Southern boy singing a song about peaches, that goes on forever and is not funny at all. I love McBrayer, and they just completely wasted him.
– The episode is seemingly gearing up toward Lisa being told the secret behind the milk can escape trick, Raymondo’s greatest feat. So then when she learns it, she decides to make a grand debut of it at… the Springfield Elementary playground. And then she performs it flawlessly. They’re doing the cliche “child meets old person expert, learns stuff” premise, but there’s no intrigue whatsoever because Lisa is shown to be an expert immediately. What’s the point of this story?
– The guest star roll call (a literal roll call, as Lisa names each magician as they appear) is pretty much at its laziest here. Each celebrity gets their isolated lines, all of which are feeble little softball jokes done at their expense. There’s not even any reason for them to be there at all; Cregg Demon could have botched the magic trick himself and gotten himself stuck, the conflict would have been exactly the same then. Maybe the writers all recently went to the Magic Castle in Hollywood and thought they should write a magic episode so they can meet all these people. Keep raising that guest star count!

One good line/moment: I enjoyed Martin Landau as Raymondo, but scanning back through the episode, I’m hard pressed to name any line I thought was particularly funny. Maybe I was just waiting the whole time for him to start screaming about Boris Karloff being a limey cocksucker like he did in Ed Wood.