508. Lisa Goes Gaga

Original airdate: May 20, 2012

The premise:
Lisa is at her lowest point after being humiliated at school, and who better to help cheer her up than pop megastar Lady Gaga, who continuously harasses and stalks the poor girl to make herself feel better.

The reaction: I already watched this episode way back when I initially ended this blog, and I absolutely hated it. And even now, after watching all the terrible shows up to this point, even being numb to the low, low quality, I still absolutely detest this show. This episode goes beyond the show’s typical celebrity naval-gazing, this is a full-on Lady Gaga dick sucking session. I really don’t feel like sugar coating it; from beginning to end, Gaga is the star of the show, adored by all, and inexplicably saves the day in the end. We even get an original song out of her, but you could’ve fooled me that it was meant to be funny, because most of the way through, I thought it was some shameless cross-promotion of her newest album. In terms of satire, the only thing the writers can come up with for Gaga is just exaggerating her already exaggerated persona. Getting transported by a glaringly pink train with high heels on its drive wheels, being lifted by hummingbirds onto a stage, crying glitter, and then when they run out of ideas, they just insert shit Gaga’s done already, like the meat dress or being hatched from an egg. This is not parody. There’s no joke to this, other than showcasing the reality of the artist’s eccentricities, honoring her mega-fame rather than trying to do anything remotely humorous. As for the plot they attempt, it’s pretty mind boggling. Through completely absurd reasons, Lisa is extremely depressed, and Gaga rolls into town with the desire to make everyone feel good about themselves. She’s almost militant about it, screaming “No negativity!” at a man who’s been stuck against the side of her train for days. Through some weird psychic episode (???), she hones in on Lisa’s sadness, and then takes it upon herself to follow her around everywhere and poke and prod her into cheering up. While this poor girl just wants to be left alone, she won’t stop spouting empty platitudes and creating meaningless gestures like a flash mob to fix the situation. Through the whole thing, it almost feels like it’s building up to something, like it’s inching so close to satire. As a hypercharged megacelebrity, Gaga seems extremely out of touch with normal people, and her quick fix solutions and simplistic view of the world just don’t cut it for Lisa. By the end of the show, she rightfully explodes at her, calling Gaga out on being shallow and self-centered. Again, it’s so… soooo close to being actual satire, it hurts. But then we get to the ending. Homer says some nonsensical shit to Lisa, and then, literally out of nowhere, she perks up and rushes to catch Gaga before she leaves town. She apologizes for being ungrateful, realizing that blowing up at her was like a big stress reliever and fixed all her problems. And then they sing together. And Yeardley Smith sounds auto-tuned. So, not only do they skirt the edge of satire with Gaga the entire show, tease it so closely, and then just completely and utterly undermine the whole thing at the very end, like whoooooops, JK! ALL HAIL GAGA! That’s why this episode is so detestable, so fucking offensive to me. They have a lot of the ingredients for satire there and they partially execute them, consciously or not, but for whatever reason, they just roll over and let themselves be just another glorified platform for a gigantic celebrity. It’s the starfucking I expect from a disposable supermarket tabloid, not what was once the greatest comedy series of all time.

Three items of note:
– I really do try to avoid direct comparisons to classic shows as much as I can, but seeing this, I would be shocked if it wasn’t the writers’ intention to try to recreate “Stark Raving Dad.” It was a similar scenario for the staff twenty years prior, a larger than life superstar wanting to do a voice on the show. Michael Jackson was an even bigger name for his time than Gaga, and the episode could have easily been just a big lovefest. But, because the show back then was actually written intelligently, we got Leon Kompowski, a hulking mental patient who thinks he’s the King of Pop. The show respected and honored Jackson and presented him in a positive fashion, but in a unique and bizarre twist. Having him voice just this normal guy who liked making people smile with moon walking and crotch grabbing is a million times more endearing and inventive than anything they did with Gaga here.
– The only thing close to positive I can say about this show is Yeardley Smith goes into overdrive as the most despondent we’ve ever heard Lisa, but the reason for her depression is so nonsensical that it’s in service of nothing. At an assembly, she’s given the most unpopular student award, which is a thing that exists and that Skinner openly allows Lisa to come up and accept, all on the verge of tears. Later, we see there’s an anonymous poster on the school message board defending Lisa, which raises her spirits slightly. But the next day at school, Lisa drops her notebook, which Bart finds is full of drafts of posts from the anonymous poster, exposing Lisa. It’s such an involved controversy that makes no sense. Why would Lisa be writing these down on paper rather than her laptop, and furthermore, why would she bring it to school? And really, what does all this matter? Lisa was always the loner with no real friends, it’s something she’s more or less made peace with over the years. But now episodes like this and “The D’oh-cial Network” portray Lisa as the sad nerd who desperately wants acceptance from other kids who wants nothing to do with her.
– Lisa isn’t the only Simpson Gaga invades the personal space of. We get an absolutely desperate scene featuring an unprovoked kiss between her and Marge. For some reason, Marge has a exaggeratedly negative reaction toward Gaga touching her hand, which then immediately leads to Gaga locking lips with her. This apparently gets Marge so hot that she immediately rushes upstairs to fuck her husband, so I guess that makes it okay that Gaga effectively just forced herself onto her. What an absolutely shameless plea for publicity; it even had its own hashtag when it first aired, #GagaKissesMarge. This is the shit that I expect from garbage reality shows on Bravo trying to boost their ratings.

One good line/moment: Absolutely nothing. Going forward, I will be incredibly surprised to come across a worse episode than this. I can’t think of what could possibly sink lower.

507. Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend

Original airdate: May 13, 2012

The premise:
When Ned and Edna reveal they’ve already gotten married, Marge volunteers to throw them a make-up party. But their union runs into trouble when Edna decides to enroll Rod and Todd into public school.

The reaction: Remember that desperate marketing gimmick… I mean, momentous show-changing event of the new relationship between Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel? After revealing they did indeed stay together in a quick scene in the season premiere, now we finally check back in on these two, and it turns out they got married in secret. First off, I honestly and truly don’t understand this relationship. It was barely explained at all in “The Nedliest Catch,” the show thrust them together on one lunch date, followed by a montage of their relationship growing, but we never see exactly why they care about each other, much less come to love each other. And now they’re married? And we’re going to do a relationship episode about these two characters who we don’t really get why they’re together. Okay… Even worse, it seems to all be about Flanders fretting that their marriage isn’t perfect because he disagrees with Edna about certain things. These two act like a couple of twenty-somethings fretting over small-ish problems, when meanwhile these two have both been married in the past. We also have Rod and Todd, who I don’t even remember from the Nedna episode, and Edna deciding to pull them out of their wacko ultra-religious school. It’s unclear how much time has passed between the start of their relationship and now, but are we to believe Edna doesn’t know what school her step-children attend? Why wouldn’t she know that? And Ned is passive-aggressive at the idea of his boys going to Springfield “Hellementary” even though that’s where his wife works? It all just feels so, so weird; it honestly feels like they just randomly put these two characters into a relationship, and now they feel obligated to do at least one episode featuring them. But I just don’t see it. Maybe in the show’s heyday they could have written some angle to make me believe in Nedna, but here, it just feels like the one-dimensional shadows of Ned and Edna spewing out cliche, over-explained dialogue in a sleeping pill of an episode.

Three items of note:
– I’m still low-key annoyed by the new opening titles and how they just try to cram so many needless jokes into it. Each episode opens with a little gag over the classic cloud introduction, but this one was way too long, apparently. It’s a news copter with an incredibly long banner that reads, “We Don’t Hate You FOX News, We Just Love MSNBC, CNN, CBS, etc, etc, more.” Like a really long banner. The joke is longer than the beginning cloud animation, so what do they do? Just hold the frame. Four seconds after the copter goes by against a static background, then the animation and music begin. It’s like someone hit unpause. You couldn’t do a little four second animation of the clouds moving?
– A big bugaboo of mine in this show now is that Springfield’s oddball residents will just pop up wherever, whenever, regardless if there’s a reason for them to be at an event, or someone’s house, or anywhere. This episode openly acknowledges this as the reason Ned and Edna kept their message hush hush (“Everyone in this town makes such a big heck-a-baloo about everything!”) Cue Lenny, Disco Stu, Professor Frink, and other assorted weirdos barging into their hospital room. We see the same thing later on at their wedding party. How do Ned and Edna know Sideshow Mel? Cookie Kwan? Captain McAlister? None of that matter. Everyone in the town knows everyone, and sadly, it’s been that way for a while now.
– There’s a sort-of running story maybe involving Bernice Hibbert, Helen Lovejoy and Luann Van Houten upset with Marge for throwing Ned and Edna the wedding party because they wanted to throw it themselves? What? I don’t really understand why they’re so bitchy, or why they would care, or why they would want to throw the party, or why all three of them were in the bridal supply store I guess lying in wait to get the jump on Marge. Marge bends over backwards to make sure the party goes perfectly (which, for some reason, means breaking up a potential hook-up between Lindsay Naegle and Captain McAlister. Why would that reflect badly on Marge?) Then when Ned snaps at Edna, Helen is smugly overjoyed, texting a photo that Marge’s party was a disaster? What? I don’t fucking understand what the point of any of this is. This “plot,” and the whole episode. And this show. Why am I still watching this?

One good line/moment: I actually did think the LGBT scene was pretty clever: Ned’s meeting of the Left-Gifted, Bi-Dexterous, and Trans-Handed community. It runs a little long, but not as tortuously long as some other potentially funny segments have dragged on in the past.

506. The Spy Who Learned Me

Original airdate: May 6, 2012

The premise:
After sustaining a head injury at work, Homer hallucinates a James Bond expy as his mentor to woo Marge back into his good graces. Meanwhile, Bart enacts revenge on Nelson by getting him hooked on Krusty Burger, leaving him morbidly obese.

The reaction: Things start off on a bad note as we open with two set pieces that feel like neutered recreations of past show moments. First is the Stradivarius Cain movie clip, featuring a meeting of a group of evil super villains who are thwarted by our hero popping out of something. It’s a hollow mimicry of the McBain segment from “Last Exit to Springfield”: the in-context parody of overtly evil action movie villains is replaced with awkward out-of-place comedic dialogue of evil guy’s mistress assuring she didn’t sleep with Cain and stale violence that feels nowhere near as wonderfully brutal as McBain (or as funny, like when a guy reaches for a dead man’s slice of cake and is shot himself). Homer and Marge are in attendance of said movie, and Homer is making an ass of himself, as he did previously in “Colonel Homer.” Like then, this scene sets up a rift between the two that will have to be dealt with over the episode. He decides not to tell the family he got time off of work since Marge is still mad at him, and then he starts hallucinating Cain to give him advice on how to woo women. There’s no rhyme or reason as to when or how he appears, he just comes and goes as he pleases. We also get a segment of Homer at a trendy bar successfully using a corny pick-up line and getting a hot girl, so there’s also some recycled stuff here from that ode to pick-up artists episode last season. Not only does Cain show up like five minutes after we see Homer’s accident, it’s not clear exactly what the point of him is. Homer gets completely back in Marge’s good graces with one smooth-talkin’ line of dialogue, followed by a sleep-inducing climax involving that hot girl from earlier and her not-Scarface husband? For some reason? I dunno. This show was just a lot of random things happening that sometimes connected to a threadbare story line, sometimes. Bleh. Don’t have much else to say about it.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is just as unremarkable. We get an in-universe version of Super-Size Me with Eric Idle’s character, a film that at this point was nearly a decade old. I feel like this show referenced it at least once before. But there’s no satirical element to it, the only joke is characters get cartoonishly obese eating all that Krusty Burger. That’s all. The Beavis & Butthead revival did a Super-Size Me segment around this time, but it actually had a story to it. And humor. Here, Nelson gets fat, Krusty lets him use his trainer, then we end with buff super bully Nelson. That’s it. We also get maybe the most bafflingly dated reference in show history, when the trainer makes an Alicia-Silverstone-in-Batman-&-Robin fat joke. Were they doing spring cleaning in the writer’s room and found a post-it note from 1997?
– There’s a pretty lazy piece of dialogue toward the end of the episode. On an establishing shot of Homer driving to the fancy garden party restaurant thing, Homer comments, “The three of us are going to the most romantic restaurant in town!” So you expect Marge to say, “Three? You mean two?” And there to be some kind of comic moment with that. Instead, nothing. We see Cain in the backseat, who is strapped into Maggie’s car seat (why?), but Marge doesn’t make any remark. Did they just forget they were setting up a joke and not pay it off?
– Sweet, sweet FOX synergy. One of the many hallucinations Homer cycles through is Cleatus, the FOX Sports robot, who Homer mentions by name and he does his little end line dance as the NFL music plays. It just goes so long, and feels like nothing but sad time filler.

One good line/moment: He’s got no material to work with whatsoever, but Bryan Cranston is never not likable. As Cain, he’s pretty much playing a suave James Bond type, but there’s a weird moment when he appears to be getting his rocks off while watching Homer and Marge make out. He literally pops up into frame at a perfect diagonal angle behind them locking lips, it’s a really bizarre sequence that I laughed at because it was so weird. It was like it turned into an Adult Swim show for a few seconds.

505. A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Original airdate: April 29, 2012

The premise:
Bart seeks to dispel his recent ennui with a family vacation on a luxury cruise, but when he realizes his perfect week is only temporary, he schemes a plan to make the vacation last forever.

The reaction: The Simpson family once existed in a world where everything sucked. When they watched commercials for seemingly amazing attractions or products that seemed to be too good to be true, they usually ended up being huge let-downs. The show was a satire on all aspects of modern life, and no subject matter was safe from its masterful ridicule. Nowadays, whether it be celebrities who play themselves delivering softball jokes at their own “expense,” or showing the family at elaborate events and new locales based on the writers’ seemingly wonderful SoCal lives, it seems at times the show isn’t as interested in ripping on things as it is glorifying them. This may be the crowning example thus far, an episode that seems like an extended commercial for the cruise industry. When Bart sees the ad for the cruise line, he’s immediately won over. It looks like the funnest things to ever be fun in the history of fun-dom. Then the family takes the cruise, and it’s the best thing ever. Everything about it is great. More fun than anything else ever. Fun fun fun. Did the writers get a free vacation out of this? The cruise industry seems like such a ripe target for ridicule, but they just let this one slip by. In the context of the story, there’s no room for satire though; the episode is about Bart’s inexplicable melancholy, and his realization that while the cruise is enthralling now, it, like all things, is only temporary. I’ll give the episode some credit, we go into some really dark places with Bart, with him imaging himself on his death bed mourning a wholly unexciting life. There are a few sequences that come close to holding real weight, but ultimately, I’m left not entirely sure why Bart is feeling this way. This type of depression about one’s future seems weird for someone as young as Bart to have; Lisa’s bout of sadness way back in “Moaning Lisa” made sense because she’s always been wise beyond her years, and we see why she feels this way, from her unappreciative school and home life. No matter how many times Bart talks about how unhappy and unfulfilled he feels, I never understood why that was. There are elements of this show that feel like they actually could work, but by the time we get to the third act where all hell breaks loose on the ship that ends up with the Simpsons in Antarctica, it just becomes the same nonsensical slop we always get every Sunday.

Three items of note:
– The opening act is full of sequences I’ve come to expect from this show. To raise the money to go on the room, Bart sells everything in his room in a yard sale. Everything. His bed, his furniture, all of it. This all happens without Homer or Marge saying anything about it, it’s just a set piece where they can kill a little time. The next day, Bart is shocked to find that his funds jar is completely full, like magic! Marge announces that each family member sold one beloved item each, so then Lisa, then Marge, then Homer wait their turns to give their respective joke lines about what they sold. Like the kids talking in the movie theater in “Cheating Bart,” it’s all this super hacky set-up, pay-off style of sitcom writing that this show used to make fun of.
– Bart tricks his fellow passengers that there’s been a virus outbreak on land so they must stay out at sea, creating panic and pandemonium. We get a panoramic view of the ship that mirrors the one earlier in the episode, except all the attractions and amenities are in ruin. Everyone is miserable, everything is dirty and run down, nothing works, but for some reason, Bart doesn’t seem to care. He’s deluded himself into thinking this is all still fun, but it doesn’t play out like a delusion. Like, why is he still psyched? This could have played into some realization that it wasn’t the superficial fun stuff on the ship that was making him happy, it was seeing the rest of his family enjoy themselves that he liked. Instead, we don’t get that confession out of him until the end of the episode. Speaking of which…
– So, the Simpsons end up stranded in Antarctica with a few minutes of show to spare. They run into a hoard of penguins and Bart and Lisa make some observation about how life is about enjoying those fleeting fun moments, blah blah blah, whatever. It all feels so arbitrary. The family is stranded in a freezing cold environment, but when they see the penguins sliding down the hill, they decide it’s time to exposit the meaning of tonight’s episode.

One good line/moment: I actually really liked Steve Coogan as the cruise director. The gag in his introductory video where it keeps cutting to him leaning against different guard rails as he gives his spiel gave me the first genuine, hearty laugh I’ve gotten out of this show in a long time.

504. Beware My Cheating Bart

Original airdate: April 15, 2012

The premise:
Jimbo threatens Bart into being his surrogate to take his girlfriend Shauna to all the things he doesn’t want to go to, which results in a weird, inappropriate relationship between them. Meanwhile, Homer buys an expensive treadmill only so he can binge watch a LOST “parody” on its built-in TV.

The reaction: “Doesn’t anyone here realize I’m only ten years old?” Bart quips halfway through the episode. I feel like he’s addressing the writers here, because this is yet another instance of putting Bart in a situation better suited for a high school story, probably the most extreme one yet. I usually try to avoid direct compare and contrasts to past episodes, but seeing as this is the second show featuring Bart’s infatuation with an older girl who’s dating Jimbo, that’s just far too specific to not have in my mind. Ah yes, “New Kid on the Block,” airing nearly twenty years earlier, featured Bart’s youthful crush on cool new neighbor Laura Powers, who impresses him with her knowledge of schoolyard pranks and ability to use bullies’ mind tricks against them. On the other hand, who is Shauna, Jimbo’s new flame? A teen skank? We don’t get much out of her other than her occasional flirtatious nature, so Bart’s interest in her is nowhere near as believable as Laura’s was. Also, the set-up: Jimbo has Bart spend time with Shauna because he’s a non-threatening “pre-puber,” and Shauna initially thought he was a second grader, but halfway through the episode she flashes him her boobs and they start secretly making out. Gross gross groooosssss. The bullies’ ages have always been nebulous (Kearney is a father, after all), but Shauna seems like she’s probably fourteen, fifteen max? Locking lips with a kid? Weird. And as we’ve seen in the past, Bart oscillates from acting like a little boy to an older kid with a girlfriend, from happily going up and down the slide to eagerly anticipating his next make-out sess. Halfway through, they have an extended section where Bart appears to be slightly traumatized after being flashed, but this is dropped pretty quickly after he, for some reason, urges Shauna she can do better than Jimbo. Maybe the episode could have been about Bart not wanting to grow up so fast, like his own “Lard of the Dance.” Instead we get him playing mouth hockey with a girl in a two-piece bathing suit who looks like a high schooler. I repeat: gross gross GROSS.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is pretty boring. Once again, the show is late to the party, as LOST went off the air two years earlier. I imagine this story came about from one of the writers binge-watching the show after not having watched it first run. So Homer very quickly just stops using the treadmill, and Marge, for some reason, is too much of a dope to figure out the obvious truth (“I guess the weight will come off all at once one day in the future!”) She’s upset when she finds Homer just watching TV in the basement, then later she’s not mad when she wants to have sex when the kids are out of the house, but Homer is too engrossed in the show. She ends up blurting out spoilers for the series finale, and then in the last scene, as Homer previously was murmuring to himself about killing his wife for spoiling a TV show for him, Marge gives her husband LOST-themed sexy times and it’s all okay. I’m not even upset about Homer getting rewarded after being a jackass because the plot is barely developed enough to be mad about. Also, we get a scene with Jimbo dangling Bart out of the treehouse outside the open master bedroom window. So I guess Marge is aware her son is being physically abused, and Bart and Jimbo can see her in her negligee about to have sex with Homer, and both parties are cool with that. Why not.
– The opening act features a beginning that explains too much, and an end than explains too little. Bart and Milhouse run into the bullies and Shauna at the movie theater. Dolph explains they’re going to see a foreign horror movie while pointing at the poster, who then just explains all the jokes that are written on the poster. Meanwhile, Shauna mentions she wants to see a Jennifer Aniston movie where she rolls her eyes on the poster, then gestures to a movie poster where you see that. This whole section feels like it’s out of Big Bang Theory or something, this stilted sitcom-level over-explaining dialogue. You’re almost waiting for the laugh track to show up. Later on, Bart gets Shauna out of trouble with mall security by taking the fall for her shoplifting. He’s worried about getting beat up by Jimbo, but it just seems like such weak motivation, especially considering earlier this season the bullies were his lackeys in that Teddy Roosevelt episode. Then, there’s an explosion inside mall jail and Bart just runs out. No explanation whatsoever, they couldn’t even be bothered to write a joke for that moment, just move on, no one will care.
– The dinner table scene with Bart seeing breasts everywhere is such easy material. The cookies with chocolate nipples, Grampa offering (chicken) breasts and calling him a boob… like, so, so easy. It just reminds me of that great scene in “Duffless,” the Clockwork Orange parody where Bart’s reaching for the cupcakes and falls to the floor, traumatized. I have no fucking idea how they got away with a joke like that in 1993. To go from that to this kind of amateur hour is pretty sad to me.

One good line/moment: Though it definitely runs twice as long as it probably should, the Bill Plympton couch gag was pretty entertaining. Seeing Homer fuck his beloved couch, have a little chair baby, and it attempt suicide by throwing itself in the maw of a garbage truck as its baby is in tears was pretty shocking stuff, but in a good way, in my opinion.