Scullyfied Simpsons: “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” (Season 11, Episode 14)

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Full disclosure: every screencap here is taken from Frinkiac.

“Homer? You are the worst human being I have ever met.” – Ned Flanders, “Hurricane Neddy”. Give it three seasons, Flanders.

Airdate: February 13th, 2000.

Written By: Ian Maxtone Graham.

Plot: A trip to the nature preserve results in the Simpson clan encroaching on a racetrack. At a race later that day, they meet the Flandereses on the top deck of the bleachers. Unfortunately, a rather tragic series of events unfurl, and Maude winds up knocked off the stands to her death. Ned has to cope with the loss of his beloved… which he does with the help of a man.

A certain man.

That caused his wife’s death.

Review:

The debate over the decline of The Simpsons has often lied in the sentiments and degree of said decline? Not only is it often debated how long the show entered the rough spot (if it hit said spot at all), but there’s also the debate of how far the show sank. As I mentioned in my review of “Saddlesore Galactica”, there are plenty of fans that do watch the show to this day, and argue that while there has been a decline, that the fans that call for the show’s cancellation rely on hyperbolic sentiment.

They argue that the golden years were so illustrious, that nothing, short of nothing, could match them. These fans argue that the Dead Homer Society faction of fans – in effect, the #WengerOut of the Simpsons fandom (and that’s neither a complaint nor a compliment) – are either relying on rose-colored glasses or have such impossible standards as to ruin a perfectly good show for themselves and others.

And you know what?

That’s fine by me!

If you want to enjoy new episodes of The Simpsons, that is absolutely cool. I disagree with your argument that it’s particularly good (or even watchable) television, but again, that’s my opinion. Even Zombie Simpsons – a blog with probably the most thorough analysis of the show’s decline out on the internet – argues that their visceral reaction to the show’s current state is only exacerbated because the golden years (seasons 1-7, according to them) were, in their eyes, so brilliant as to be part of the American canon.

To a cynical select few, it might come off as being part of the #WengerOut-esque bandwagon, this idea that we should kill off this institution of American television because a few nerds on the internet are angry. Which, alright. It’s the internet. You don’t have to go far to find insolent jackasses.

To those few, I want to disclose that what I am about to say, and my rationale thereof, is only a very slightly hyperbolic take on my own personal beliefs. Very slightly, in fact. Yes, I know this is just a show, but it revolves around my all-time favorite TV show. And therefore, where I am coming from is pretty clear.

Here we go…

“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is the single most infuriating piece of fiction that I have covered or very likely will ever cover on The Review Nebula. Continue reading

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The Prisoner Review: “Dance of the Dead” (Episode 3)

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“If our torment is to end, if liberty is to be restored, we must grasp the nettle, even though it makes our hands bleed. Only through pain can tomorrow be assured.” – The Mysterious Radio Broadcast.

Airdate: November 17th, 1967

Written By: Anthony Skene

Plot: Carnival has come around to The Village. It’s another day of democratic frivolity, where people are allowed to bring their partners to dance. Lucky Six – he just got out of a brutal round of torture. Contemplating it after another escape attempt fails, he stumbles across a radio on a dead man. Taking it, he hears a distinctly libertarian message, quoted above. With a new gravitas, and warned by an old comrade of his, he decides to take part in the carnival. But is it the frivolity that it appears to be at first glance?

Review:

“Dance of the Dead” is a rather interesting episode of The Prisoner, based on how one can put it in the lineup… or rather, how it should go in the lineup. Despite airing 8th on the UK’s ITV Network, Patrick McGoohan has suggested that this episode should go second in a chronology of “important” episodes – seven episodes that are said to best enhance the plot and character development within the show. The order, according to him, reads…

  1. Arrival
  2. Free For All
  3. Dance of the Dead
  4. Checkmate
  5. The Chimes of Big Ben
  6. Once Upon A Time
  7. Fall Out

The Six of One appreciation society – the order that I am using for my review series –  agrees with that order, but includes the other ten episodes omitted by McGoohan. I mean, after all, there might be some hints within those ten episodes to the true state of Number Six’s situation, new characters, and how to best build the world around our protagonist.

However, McGoohan only wanted to do seven episodes, rather typical for a British drama. To sell the show to the states, however, the producers wanted 30 episodes. They settled on 17. Hence, the debacle of new fans watching The Prisoner to this day.

Based on the order that I’m watching the episodes in, not only does Number Six find himself trapped on the island, but the next episode took the concept of Democracy that he was so used to and destroyed it right in front of his face, absolutely crushing him and his spirit.

So, now what?

“Dance of the Dead”, the third episode I’m covering so far, is probably the silliest episode so far… as well as the most insane.

And that’s saying something. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Same Old World” (Season 3, Episode 3)

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“Take me out tonight.
Where there’s music, and there’s people, and they’re young and alive
Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home
Because I haven’t got one anymore…”
 “There is a Light That Never Goes Out“, The Smiths

Airdate: May 16th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Having been rescued from the clutches of Malachite, Lapis is trapped in a conundrum. Given what transpired between her and Jasper, returning to Homeworld is out of the question. Yet, she is still adverse to staying on Earth – her past still lingers in her mind. To try and convince her to stay on the planet, Steven offers to take her on a tour around the northeastern United States. Said tour makes Lapis more aware of the world around her… and makes Steven more aware of Lapis’s past.

Review:

Well, after the insanity of Jockey Elves that have a weakness for Hefty Bags, it’s time to bring ourselves down to Earth just a little bit. And what better way to do so then by focusing on a tv episode that revolves around a flying water lady and a half-human fourteen-year-old who acts like a twelve-year-old?

See what you did, Tim Long and Mike Scully?

Anyway… welcome back, Lapis Lazuli.

Many a commentator on Steven Universe has remarked on the transformative nature of Lapis Lazuli’s character. It was, in fact, her appearance that marked Steven Universe‘s transformation from a goofy slice of life comedy with occasional tragic elements, straight into a science fiction space opera-styled comedy-drama. With her appearance, the show begins to embrace the greying of morality from both ends of the spectrum – no character is completely depraved, and no protagonist (not even Steven, occasionally) is free of character failings.

Caught in the center is Lapis Lazuli. She has found herself a captive of both the Crystal Gems and Homeworld forces – the former holding her in the back of a Five Below mirror, the latter manipulating her into a fusion that she immediately drove into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. In many ways, she is probably the show’s most tragic character. Sure, Pearl’s lust over Rose has generated some of the show’s biggest tearjerkers (and, in my opinion, four of the show’s all-time greats.) But while Pearl’s is a deeply romantic tragedy, Lapis Lazuli’s drama centers around the idea of being a stateless woman – unable to return to Homeworld, unable to trust the Crystal Gems or the planet they defend, she is a Gem without a home.

The episode that first peels away at her character is “Same Old World”. And ironically, though this episode may focus on a character that deeply begrudges the Earth, I don’t think that any episode of Steven Universe is as big of a love letter to the planet we inhabit as this one. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Saddlesore Galactica” (Season 11, Episode 13)

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What are the odds that somebody made that face when reading the script for the first time?

“I’d like to play me latest chart-toppah. It’s called, ‘Me Fans Are Stupid Pigs.'” – Dream Bart, “The Otto Show”. Who knew he would nail a Simpsons writer just eight years later?

Airdate: February 6th, 2000.

Written By: Tim Long

Plot: Springfield Elementary’s Concert Band comes in second place at the county fair, beaten by Ogdenville Elementary, who have recovered well enough from their Lyle Lanley Monorail related debacle to perform “Stars and Stripes Forever” with glow sticks! While Lisa is ornery about the failure, more pressing issues take precedent.

You see, Bart and Homer come across a trick-performing horse that is abandoned at the fair by his deadbeat and abusive owner. Rescuing him from destruction, the two decide to race him to pay the bills. Initial failures lead to the duo trying to remarket the horse, and soon, Bart and Homer become the team to beat. This results in the ire of the other jockeys, who kidnap Homer and reveal themselves to secretly be undergrown-dwelling elves.

Yes.

The jockeys are elves.

There are Jockey Elves in The Simpsons.

Who all live in a fiberglass tree and threaten to eat people’s brains.

No, I was not written under the influence of a controlled substance while watching this episode.

Review:

This review has been five years in the making.

The Simpsons has been on the air as a television series twenty-nine years this December, sending out 639 episodes as of the publication of this post. With such a vast variety of episodes, there are bound to be both high points and low points, no matter what you make of the later seasons. Because while most of my favorite blogs despair about the current state of the series, the truth is that there are plenty of people who still like the new seasons. Opinions, indeed, have ranged from “this show is permanently dead” to “the show has rebounded” to “the show did decline, but it’s still pretty damn good” to “AL JEAN FOR PRESIDENT!” So unlike what you would expect from The Review Nebula and Dead Homer SocietySimpsons fandom is rather diverse in opinion. And you know what? If you like contemporary Simpsons, that’s cool. I disagree with you, but… that’s cool.

That said, if one speaks broadly, one can ascertain certain trends in episodic opinion. And with that in mind, I think I can safely say that no episode of The Simpsons is loathed more viscerally than “Saddlesore Galactica”.

Yes, “Kidney Trouble” is widely disliked for transforming Homer into an odious figure, but fans have provided arguments trying to excuse his cowardice (even though I personally disagree with said arguments). “Homer Vs. Dignity” gained a lot of hate for the infamous “Panda Scene”, but there’s still debate over what occurred there, as well. “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” does have a lot of people that agree with its message. And while “Lisa Goes Gaga” is universally despised, there is no denying by that point, most of the show’s fans had thrown their hands up and either accepted that an episode like that was bound to happen, or quit the show in despair long before it aired.

“Saddlesore Galactica” is often cited as a certain threshold for the series. Many fans often poll it as the show’s event horizon – the moment when they realized that the show’s decline was irreversible. At the very least, it is almost universally described as the show’s most outlandish episode.

So… why do I agree with them? And to what extent? Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “Free For All” (Episode 2)

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Number Two: “Are you going to run?”
Number Six: “Like blazes – the first chance I get.”
– Insert your own joke about every Twitter user who threatened to leg it to Canada in 2016 here.

Airdate: October 20th, 1967

Written ByPatrick McGoohan.

PlotAn election is being held for the position of Number Two. Yes, this weird Village actually does hold council elections, even for the leader! Encouraged to run, Six decides to do so on a provocative platform. This, naturally, gets him in the crosshairs of the council… but not in the way that most of us would expect.

Review:

Amongst the enduring legacies of the Ancient Greek cultures is the concept of democracy. Derived from the word “demos”, referring to the people, Democracy has its roots in the Athenian states, with direct democracy allowing for the Citizen’s Assemblies (for starters.) While quite limited by contemporary standards (women and non-landowners were excluded), the concept of Athenian democracy was radical for the time, contrasting the idea with the absolutism of other ancient societies.

Today, democracy appears to be the popular form of government, at least in terms of public image. Even nations that tend towards autocratic measures at least claim to have some form of democracy, even if the laws within rebut those ideas. That said, the allure of democracy is much more appealing to those outside of the halls of power than those within. I’d go into more detail, but I think Detective Cornfed from Duckman demonstrated the ultimate issue with democratic societies.

That said, I would argue that Democracy is the best system of governance out there. Yes, I’m biased. But if you were to poll me, I would defend to the death the idea of presenting the common man with the ultimate power to choose his or her representatives, to chart the course of national policy in economics or societal platform. Even if I disagree with the final results of elections (as in the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency), I still love to romanticize this democracy that we live in.

However, democracy certainly isn’t perfect. I mean, nothing is, but there are certainly valid critiques levied at the Anglo democratic system that can be levied… something that “Free for All” takes on. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Gem Drill” (Season 3, Episode 2)

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Are you ready to drill down into the planet to depths never before reached by your species to stop the Cluster before it forms and save your world? – Peridot. Ma’am, might I direct you to Jules Verne’s 1864 classic?

Airdate: May 12th, 2016.

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: With the Earth about ready to explode in a Cluster-related disaster, Steven and Peridot decide to drill to the center of the planet. It’s their one shot, and Peridot will be damned if she can’t wipe them all out. However, as the Gem Shards attack the drill, Steven begins to experience a massive disquiet with the idea.

Review:

Ah, a big one here.

For all that the Steven Universe fandom has been critical of the episodes swinging between Big Ones and “Townies”, let it be known that – at least for me – the big ones are a big reason why so many of us keep up with the show. Because the Big Episodes are generally sublime, universally considered amongst the show’s best. In short, it shows that the Crewniverse are doing something right.

“Gem Drill”, however, might be the most controversial of the Big Ones, apart from maybe “Bismuth”. But while “Bismuth” generated some political controversy, “Gem Drill” found fans debating over whether or not it satisfied the development of the plot well enough – or more specifically, brought a major plot thread to an adequate conclusion.

If I’m honest, the Cluster Arc in Steven Universe was executed in a rather… peculiar way. What was meant to be the Ultimate Destruction of the Earth As We Know It (TM) was actually wrapped up in a rather interesting fashion… not only did the end of the arc not come at the end of a season, it came as the second episode of Season 3. In a show that has at least five seasons.

Many fans have called this a moment of wasted potential for Steven Universe. And in that regard, I can’t totally disagree. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “The Mansion Family” (Season 11, Episode 12)

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“John, we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride at Disneyland. Maybe you should write an episode about that.”
“Sure, pirates, whatever.”

“We made it, son. International waters – the land that law forgot!” – Homer. Well, the law might forget what happens on international waters, but the Review Nebula always remembers.

Airdate: January 23rd, 2000

Written By: John Swartzwelder.

Plot: After former “Springfield’s Oldest Citizen” Cornelius Chapman dies at the Springfield Pride Awards Ceremony, new record holder Mr. Burns decides to have his health checked out. To have his house kept during the weekend, Homer and the Simpson family stay over. Homer, ornery over not being recognized at the aforementioned ceremony, takes well to the fancy life. Indeed, to celebrate, he decides to throw a party, one that ultimately sends him into international waters to circumvent alcohol laws… and sends him into conflict with pirates.

Review:

“Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” remains one of my least favorite episodes of the Mike Scully Era of The Simpsons. In short, it encapsulates a lot that critics dislike about the show – established character traits are all but forgotten about, the characters began to revolve around a more insolent and moronic version of Homer even when the script didn’t call for it, celebrities that were once lampooned were now being treated with kid gloves, and the third act goes completely off the rails for reasons I can only assume were thought up under the influence of rotisserie chicken.

The complete character assassination of Mr. Burns, in particular, remains tragic. He was one of the show’s central agents of conflict, and by nullifying that, character-driven plots were tossed aside in favor of the slapdash and outlandish plotting we see at the moment. “The Mansion Family” is his first episode since, well…

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…unfortunately, this episode is not that much better. In some ways, it’s slightly less egregious. In others, it’s even more obnoxious.

Particularly since this episode also serves as a sequel to a classic episode, “Homer the Smithers.” Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “Arrival” (Episode 1)

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It’s like bizarro Busch Gardens!

“Where am I?
“The Village.
– Number Six and Number Two. The latter would make an excellent tour guide.

Airdate: 29 September 1967

Written By: George Markstein and David Tomblin.

Plot: A British Intelligence agent resigns his commission in a fit of anger. Driving back to his house to pack a suitcase, his house is gassed, and he is knocked out. When he comes to, he finds himself in a mysterious village. No one can give him answers as to where, and no one – least of all the government – will help him out. In fact, the government of the Village appears to want him there…

Review:

The very first scene of The Prisoner contains no audible dialogue. A man on a mission, throwing down his dossier and resigning. A life that we are obscured from in terms of the voices of the actors within, but we see being torn to shreds. We only get a few minutes of that, but those few minutes set up what we need to know – that the life of our protagonist beforehand is to be taken away, dusted off like it was nothing.

Our protagonist knows that his maneuver there would produce a dramatic and possibly life-threatening result, and tried his damnedest to stay ahead of the curve… unaware that there are those ahead of him, and willing to do whatever to make sure that our protagonist pays a hefty price.

Ladies and gentlemen? Welcome to my review series on The Prisoner.

Welcome to “Arrival”. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Super Watermelon Island” (Season 3, Episode 1)

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“I’ll never survive – I’m not the Robinson Crusoe type. I’m lousy with woodwork. I’m no good in the wild. Do you know, when I was in school, it took me five terms to make a tent peg? How long is it going to take me to build a two-story home with running water and a balcony/sun patio? Six hundred years? I won’t even have finished planing the wood!” – Rimmer, Red Dwarf, “Rimmerworld”. I use this quote because, if a bunch of watermelons whose species came from a thirteen-year old’s saliva can create their own functioning society within months, you have no excuse at all.

Airdate: May 12, 2016

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: On an island somewhere far from Beach City, a civilization of watermelons that look strikingly familiar have set up shop and embraced the agricultural society. Beyond that, they have also taken to occasional sacrifices… particularly with a mega-sized Gem Fusion that is constantly in conflict.

Yup – it’s Malachite! With Steven having possessed a now-dead Watermelon Steven, he alerts the Crystal Gems to this predicament, and the trio go to the island to try and take her down. With encouragement from Peridot, Steven winds up sleeping his way into aiding his comrades.

Review:

Steven Universe‘s third season found it’s genesis in a rather unique way. Technically, it was intended to be the back half of a 52-episode Season 2 of Steven Universe. However, for reasons that I can only assume include Christine Miller wanting a brand new vacation villa, the season was split in half.

Which, strangely enough, worked out well. I mean, Season 1 was basically two seasons – the very comic and lighthearted 1A, and the more dramatic and arc-driven 1B. Likewise, the resultant Season 2 largely dealt with Peridot’s fall and rebirth, as she went from chasing the Crystal Gems in the name of Homeworld to trying to save the Earth, defecting from and angering Homeworld as a result.

Season 3’s arc, then, can be summed up as “Steven tries to solve everybody’s problems, and this time, he isn’t quite as successful.” I mean, he did play a decently-sized role in reforming Peridot, even if her defection came from her own conclusions. This season will see that idea of Steven the Grand Savior rebutted with example after example of how it doesn’t always pan out this way, as well as shine a light on some of the darker layers of the Crystal Gems.

And we kick off this season with… his children. Made of watermelon. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Faith Off” (Season 11, Episode 11)

(Note: for those looking for my review of The Prisoner episode “Arrival”, that will come out in the next couple of weeks. The schedule can be found on the intro post. So, a review of this and the Steven Universe episode “Super Watermelon Island” will precede the review of “Arrival”.)

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Heat makes metal expand. Now who’s talking mumbo-jumbo?” – Bart Simpson.

Airdate: January 16th, 2000.

Written By: Frank Mula

Plot: Homer’s attempt to pull a prank on the Dean of Springfield University as revenge for siphoning his money goes awry when a bucket full of glue lands on his head. While his driving is impaired, the resultant crash leads him and the family to Brother Faith, who claims to use the power of God to heal. He uses an enamored Bart to pull the bucket off Homer’s head, and Bart is intrigued with the flamboyance and fame of Brother Faith. As a result, he starts his own church, proclaiming to be a healer of his own.

Review:

The early 1800s brought with it a new wave of religious fervor to the United States. Labeled the Second Great Awakening, this wave of religion was in itself a reaction to the more logical elements of the Enlightenment era that fueled the Revolution. Many Christian sects were founded, particularly in the “burned-over” region of Northern New York, and these sects worked to try and solve the societal ills of the time. This wound up not only leading to the founding of the LDS Church, but the Second Awakening laid further seeds for the abolitionist movements in the United States, as it led to the rise of abolitionist preachers.

Likewise, the 1980s brought with it a small religious recovery on its own. So-called televangelists, taking advantage of the revival of conservatism during the Reagan era, began to use the apex of emotion to broadcast the word of their churches, all while acting in increasingly flamboyant ways. Of course, quite a few of these programs fell apart – largely thanks to tax laws. However, the influence still lingers today, in the form of Joel Osteen, for example.

So, what about “Faith Off”, an episode from the middle of The Simpsons Season 11? Continue reading