Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! (I.E. Shameless Self Promotion, Futurama Edition)

Behold, a blog dedicated to reviewing every Futurama episode ever!

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New Name, Same Geek

Hello, readers… whatever ones I have….

Some of you might have noticed that I have decided to rename my Blogspot username. Thing is, there’s a Youtuber that had my old name, and I simply decided to differentiate further. My name is, well, taken after Starbug from Red Dwarf, as well as the anniversary date for the premiere of the first Red Dwarf episode.

Over the year, I also plan to get a new URL and name. (Yes, the second name in two years- Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis are spinning in their graves.) However, I won’t deviate from the Blogspot platform… not yet. Why? Blogspot is free. (Let’s just hope it stays that way).

Update: 24/1/15: I changed my name again, from 215 to 1729, simply because 215 seemed a bit on the nose.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 22: "Trash of the Titans"

CURSE YOU, RECYCLING CALENDAR!

Airdate: April 26, 1998

Synopsis: After OFF celebrates “Love Day” (a second Valentine’s Day meant to make more money for big business), there is a heap of trash. Failing to get the trash out in time, Homer insults the garbage men, causing service to be cut off. Weeks and piles of trash later, Marge finally writes an apology letter. Rejecting this claim, Homer goes straight to the top – Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson (Steve Martin), and after getting thrown out, decides to run for Sanitation Commissioner himself. Running on a populist platform of “can’t somebody else do it”, he wins in a landslide… and his policies threaten to bring down the town.

*WARNING: SPOILERS IN REVIEW”Review: Great. Right out of one of the better episodes of the season, we get an episode that showcases probably the most blasted aspect of Scully’s era- mischaracterization of Homer Jay Simpson. And this is the two hundredth episode. That’s a good sign, eh?

Actually, taken as a whole, this episode seems to continue with the satire found in “Girly Edition”- picking apart an aspect of American society. This example is somewhat more over the top than “Girly Edition”- this time, we take a look at the pitfalls of populism.

American society is practically built on pseudo-populism. It was a bunch of “average joes” that drove the British Empire out of the land now part of the United States of America. America was one of the earliest “modern’ (read- post Renaissance) nations to experiment with a representative democracy, and a head of state that was from the people, not a monarch. The anti-federalists, representing the populace, managed to get a Bill of Rights in the constitution, guaranteeing basic freedoms for the people.

Unfortunately, populism has it’s drawbacks. Given that the average joe is often less aware of the risk factors when it comes to certain ideas, their plans can often end in disaster. For one, you can’t expect low tax while maintaining the same level of public services- you either have to cut services or raise taxes. Often, people believe that everything should be done to their exact beck and call, and that they shouldn’t have to pay the piper.

(Full disclosure: I consider myself a liberal/social democrat- you know, tax the rich and nationalize certain necessities of life, such as health and water- although even I don’t think that ideals such as Homer’s are sustainable without changes.)

This episode sends up those populist ideals- Homer runs for sanitation commissioner, wins on his populist ideals, tanks the budget on his wacky plans within a month, doesn’t think to ask for a budget increase, and ultimately trashes the town.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, this episode sounds pretty decent. What’s wrong with it?”

Character.

Thing is, this episode seems like it was “plot first, stick characters wherever second”. Homer was the centre character- they stuck him in. It’s pretty awkward. It’s hard to see Homer get this arrogant, this angry, this active. His behavior during the campaign is brazen- cutting Patterson’s brakes? Yet, the town (and freaking U2) spontaneously break out into song about how his administration is going to be awesome… I think (I’m not sure if it was a dream by Homer).

On one hand, this could be seen as a mockery of the overt populist ideals exhibited in American society. Yet, I can’t see Homer putting this much effort in political participation, and being this callous in doing so. It seems like everybody eggs on his behavior a bit too much- even Lisa doesn’t stop Homer from the fateful trip to City Hall. Granted, the town is populated by idiots, but it still stretches believability. Thankfully, there is actually a realistic backlash- the money is blown through rapidly, Homer’s plan to make money back fails, and he is deposed. Oh, and he’s not a mouthpiece for the writers. Yet.

Ray Patterson is actually one of the more confusing one-off characters that the show has had. He spends the episode blasting the extreme populism that Homer exhibits, and the fact that people are cheering him on. Once all is said and done, he high-tails it. On one hand, he’s pretty damn sympathetic, as well as hysterical. On the other hand, it seems to be a recognition by the writers that Homer’s becoming this “centre of the universe” character, and that they don’t really care.

The middle of the third act also shifts the show from a political satire to a “green” episode. It’s not too over the top, but it’s still a bit jarring. It does seem like the writers forgot where to go, and pumped in the last few minutes just to bring everything to a conclusion.

Admittedly, the comedy in the episode is good enough to downplay any potential flaws. Examples?

  • The concept of Love Day itself. Board member is fine with a dip in sales during the summer… and is promptly dragged out.
  • Kisses-Make-Me-Boogie-O-Lantern
  • “Dad, you’re always telling me and Bart to apologize!” “Yeah, but I’m always secretly disappointed when you do.”
  • During their stop at the PopMart tour, U2 plays “Pride”… as Homer gets dragged out of the concert and beaten up. This is broadcast on the mega-screen behind U2.
  • “I think I’ve got the perfect solution!” “You better, cause those garbagemen won’t work for free!” “D’oh!”
  • The Simpson family instantly thinks Homer’s plan to replenish the sanitation budget involves drugs. It does – drugs and weapons are brought in from New York City.
  • Once Patterson is reinstated, he goes up to the strains of the “Sanford and Son” theme, and, in a span of ten seconds, makes this speech… purely deadpan:
    • “Oh, gosh! You know, I’m not much on speeches, but it’s so gratifying to see you wallowing in the mess you’ve made. You’re screwed, thank you, bye.”
    • Cue the “Sanford and Son” theme as he washes his hands of the situation.
  • Plan B. Zany, but shocking enough to be hysterical.
Still, besides the comedy, the flaws in this episode are a bit hard to look past. Too much annoying Homer, the buildup is a bit far-fetched, and both of these combined makes this episode a bit of an “off” viewing experience.
Tidbits:
  • Steve Martin’s delivery as Ray Patterson is fantastic. I think he might be the best guest star in the Scully era. Granted, we have three more seasons, but I got a bad feeling about them.
  • U2, on the other hand, just seem to be in this episode to get “down with the kids”. Bono’s faux-pandering to Homer is funny, but the scene just seems superfluous.
  • Note to self: whenever somebody says something stupid, play “Fur Elise” in my head.
  • (Added as of 30 May): Fun fact: the city of Toronto once wanted to turn an abandoned mine n Northern Ontario into a landfill for Toronto’s stuff. Socialist leaning city councillors Jack Layton and Olivia Chow played this episode to the council, and they eventually reneged on their decision. Jack Layton would go on to become the leader of the socialist-leaning NDP, taking that party to their largest federal victory ever. Layton himself called the show “the single most important influence on progressive social commentary in the world”. Remember, this was back during the more “third-way” 90s.
Zaniness Factor: 3. Would’ve been a 2, but the last minute is bizarre enough to push it to a 3.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3. Would’ve been a 4, but he gets punished appropriately enough.
Favorite Scene: Anything with Ray Patterson.
Least Favorite Scene: I like U2 as much as the next guy, but their scenes were pointless!
 
Score: 6.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 21: "Girly Edition"

“K-I-D-Z. Z for Zap! It’s a programme for ALL KIDS, made by ALL KIDS, and concentratin’ on all the subjects that ALL KIDS are into today!” (Damn you, Ben Elton.)

Airdate: April 19th, 1998

Synopsis: With the FCC cracking down on educational TV, executives convince Krusty the Clown to add a ten minute news program hosted by kids to the end of his shows. Lisa and Bart are appointed as anchor and sports anchor, respectively. Bart’s goofy delivery impresses the executives more than Lisa’s straightforward delivery, and he is promoted to co-anchor. After hearing Lisa’s complaints about him, and after a brief consultation with Kent Brockman, Bart decides to go into more of a “sentimental” route, much to the chagrin of Lisa.

Meanwhile, Homer adopts a helper monkey, Mojo, to help him with his busy life- that is to say, getting food and sleeping. Marge is not amused.

Review: Now THIS is what “Trouble with Trillions” could’ve been: a satirical look at a particular organization or institution. In this case, the writers decide to take a huge bite out of the modern news media and traditional media in general, and it’s brutal enough to obscure any flaws that this episode has.

Let’s face it: with news fatigue and “social” news media on the rise, traditional outlets have to play the “tabloid” game even harder to try and retain viewers. The American news media does this especially egregiously- FOX News and the New York Post spin to the right, MSNBC spins to the left, CNN targets the lowest common denominator. It’s all in the quest for viewers- many of whom have simply stopped caring.

At the same time as this episode was being produced, the FCC cracked down on children’s TV shows on the networks. Believing that kids were getting stupider and fatter as a direct result of Ninja Turtles, the FCC began requiring that broadcast networks air three hours of “educational” TV. Basically, as long as it carried a message at the end, it got approved. The reason why this failed? Not only were kids just rebelling to cable TV, but strict advertising regulations made producing shows a loss for the networks.

This episode manages to hit two birds with one stone- exploring just how weak and phoned-in “educational” kids TV can be (hear me, Litton), while also taking a stab at the news media for covering “soft” news and sensationalism over hard news… even if it meant putting those that work for these companies in danger just to maintain their jobs.

As for characters… I actually can tolerate some of the characterization being a tad off… this time. In fact, I can’t say character here is too far off. One of the chief complaints against this episode is that Bart isn’t “proud” of being an underachiever here- he actually responds seriously to criticism. Yet, his response is far from genuine- it’s just an attempt to garner sympathy and prestige. That’s what American news media is, eh? Laying on the schmaltz and the flamboyance to get ratings.

Lisa, meanwhile, is often viewed by newcomers to the show as eons wiser and calmer than Bart. Episodes like these show why that viewpoint isn’t exactly correct. Sure, Lisa might be wiser and calmer, but the prospect of being one-upped brings out the absolute worst in her… and makes for some excellent character scenes. She’s far from irredeemable, shown when she comes to Bart’s defense at the junkyard, but the scenes where she sets Bart up for failure show a brilliant sense of short-sightedness in her.

This episode marks the second appearance of Lindsay Nagle. Nagle works best as a symbol of the callous executive- one that tries to stay hip, and one that likes the money, product be damned. (Ironic, innit?) Later episodes have received flack for overusing the character- a sign that the show’s well of ideas was on empty.

We also get our first appearance of the Crazy Cat Lady. Not a lot to work with beyond a joke or two, as funny as those are. For some reason, they gave her some episodes that tried to develop her character (running for mayor in “See Homer Run”, getting a backstory in “Springfield Up”, and injecting some pseudo-pathos in some Season 22 episode that I don’t remember), and the results were underwhelming.

But enough of that noise – let’s go to what everybody remembers about this episode… Homer getting a pet monkey! It’s cheesy, full of Homer acting like an insensitive child, and just hysterical. You see, Homer’s just childish enough to be lovable here- a limit that appears to have been overstepped in recent years. Seeing Mojo deteriorate under Homer’s “care” is pretty dark, yet is also hysterical. “Pray for Mojo”, indeed.

Overall, if this is the show’s last “above 7” episode, I’m not going to complain too much.

Tidbits:

  • “The Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour” is one of the greatest send-ups to 80s merchandise-themed cartoons ever. “That’s barely legal as is!”
  • Just wondering- how did Bart avoid punishment for effectively stealing half a shipment of Creamed Corn?
  • Here’s the deal- Season 12 has an episode that sends up the British sci-fi drama The Prisoner. I’m not too worried about it, since at the pace I’m reviewing The Simpsons, the show will finally be cancelled. Still, I’m thinking that, during the 17 episodes before “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”, I’ll also post reviews of The Prisoner alongside those reviews. If that goes through, expect the first Prisoner review to go out with “Faith Off”.
Zaniness Factor: 1.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. No matter what, dragging his father in to get a monkey stretches the character’s likability, even by Scully’s standards.
Favorite Scene: Mojo steals donuts, and proceeds to hoard them. No wonder why Homer developed a callous to his health, and was relatively unmoved by dropping him off.
Least Favorite Scene: OK, I’ll admit that Lisa’s speech at the end of the episode was pretty over the top.
Score: 8.

January (Sick and Tired, You’ve Been Hanging On Me)

Hello, everybody! Time for a quick little site update!

Here’s the deal- it’s January, there’s no more Red Dwarf episodes to watch, it’s too soon to go back, no Gravity Falls episodes to watch this month, still can’t decide on if I want to do a fourth show, blah, blah, blah. I’ll cut to the chase- until new Gravity Falls appears, things are getting pretty quiet.

If there’s still a Gravity Falls drought in February (I hope not), then I’ll probably (not definitely) use that month to finish up Season 9 of Scullyfied Simpsons, do my “9 Worst Episodes” of the season, and maybe start Season 10.

Back to that fourth show- at this point, if I do it, I’m conflicted on whether to do something long-form (X-Files, Enterprise), short-form (Twin Peaks, Invader Zim), or British- where the seasons are shorter (Sherlock, Broadchurch).

Again, the review of a fourth show is still not guaranteed. If you have any ideas, request them in the comments. I just have a few requirements- either I can do a damn fine essay analyzing it (i.e, nothing like the stuff I put out in my first year), or I can blast it to high heaven (in which case, it will likely have to be short form.) I would also prefer it if your show was available via legal means- thus allowing me stable access to the program (and preventing me from having my ISP throttle my speeds, yadda yadda yadda).

Oh, and in case I do so, I’m almost certainly ruling out Doctor Who, on the grounds that a) it’s been done before, and b), it would take too long.

TL;DR- quiet month, thinking about reviewing fourth show, probably not touching Doctor Who.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 20: "The Trouble With Trillions"

Bloggers note: FX Now showing every episode of The Simpsons isn’t too bad. The crop job, on the other hand…

Airdate: April 5th, 1998

Synopsis: The IRS notes some minor discrepancies in Homer’s taxes. (Read: Homer waited until the last possible second, made egregious claims, stuffed them into a manilla folder, and tried to sweeten the deal with mint candies.) Threatened with five years jail, Homer instead accepts a plea- work for the IRS to capture tax cheats. One such tax cheat is Mr Burns, who the IRS alleges took a trillion-dollar bill meant for European reconstruction post WWII. However, Burns’s critique of the government resonates with Homer, and the two (plus Smithers) flee. Forced to escape the country, they decide to hang out on an island… one called Cuba.

Review (SPOILERS): The IRS here in the States is a government entity that is ripe for comedy. Americans have always had a skepticism of taxes, and that lends credence to the IRS being the least-liked bureaucracy of the US government. Mocking them by being a bunch of crooked spies who manipulate the system for their own gain would’ve made for an awesome episode.

Unfortunately, this episode let’s that potential go to waste.

Instead, we get a standard “Homer gets a job” episode (don’t expect the frequency of these to lighten up anytime soon), one where this idiot is tasked with supposedly the highest cases in the IRS’s coffers, and one which borders on stupidity.

I think making Homer the wire for people with ties to him (Charlie, Mr Burns) was supposed to be a send-up of the IRS for being incompetent- why the hell would any agency send anybody with remotely close ties to these people under investigation? Still, to send Homer after the most wanted man in the IRS’s files sorta stretches belief.

What’s worse is that this angle is largely dropped by the third act. By this time in the episode, it’s just Homer, Burns, and Smithers (because Burns and Homer are allies, you see) going to a foreign country- this time, Cuba. While the Cuba set pieces are a bit quirky, it’s largely just there to serve as a rushed resolution to the episode.

To do so, pretty much every character in the show is mischaracterized, relying on “rule of stupid” to make the episode connect. Why didn’t Marge file taxes? Why does Marge not care about the fact that her husband aided and abetted a massive tax cheat? Why does the IRS hire an abject idiot to take on a high-profile case? Why does Burns let Homer inside of his mansion? Why would Burns be so stupid to inform a magazine representative that he committed “grand, grand, grand larceny”?

Each question just leads to further questions, collapsing in a vortex of stupid.

Again, it’s a shame- this episode could’ve really taken a sizable bit out of the IRS and it’s patterns of behavior. Instead, we get a stock “escape” plot that relies on characters making decisions that don’t necessarily correspond to their personalities.

Tidbits:

  • This was the second episode written by Ian Maxtone-Graham, the first being “The City of New York Vs Homer Simpson”. In a 1998 interview, he admitted that he didn’t watch a single episode of The Simpsons before joining the staff, then proceeded to insult the fans. That’s a good sign of things to come. I’ll just add on this- Stuart Baird didn’t watch a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before he went on to direct Nemesis. That movie proceeded to give a massive blow to the Trek franchise.
  • Amazingly, I can understand why Lisa didn’t necessarily care that her father made off with a trillion dollars- it’s just a reminder that, as brilliant as she is, she’s still just a kid. Marge’s reaction is a bit more concerning- wouldn’t she be concerned that her father is now amongst the most wanted men in the world.
  • Amazingly, the first act wasn’t too bad. Sure, there’s some cartoonish stuff (did Homer’s sedan literally flatten two cars?), but there was enough comedy to offset it. Then Homer is sent to Burns’s mansion, and the comedy enters a steep decline.
  • Ironically, as this review goes out, President Obama has announced a warming of relationships between the US and Cuba.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. Homer gets a nice, cushy government job for egregious tax fraud. Nice.
Zaniness Factor: 2. Homer, Burns, and Smithers. Three Americans, with a trillion dollars, effectively declaring asylum in Cuba. That is all.
Favorite Scene: The movie in the photobooth is pretty awesome. “The film you are about to see is top secret, and contains adult situations.” “I say we just be snooty to Americans forever!”
Least Favorite Scene: Why did Burns allow HOMER, of all people, to enter the mansion? And why did he confess to him that he committed “grand, grand, grand larceny?”
Score: 4.5. Not egregiously terrible, just bad enough to fail.