Scullyfied Simpsons: "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" (Season 10, Episode 12)

Homer in Super Bowl Jail.
These nutjobs have earned the prestigious honor of Smooth Jimmy Apollo’s Lock-Up of the Week!

Airdate: January 31st, 1999.

Plot: Through a series of barely connected events, Homer meets up with a travel agent who manages to get him and his friends to ride a coach bus to the Super Bowl, all for free. Thing is, their tickets have a problem – they’re fake. Their attempt to go to the game… well, just look at the above image and guess how well that fared.

Review: I am a fan of the New York Football Giants. I’ve never been to a game (because being in the largest media market gives you the right to charge $100 for a low-end ticket and god-knows-what for food and stuff), but I’ve been watching the team on TV practically every fall for the past twelve years. The 42nd and 46th Super Bowls were some of the greatest sports memories of my life. And even with the team’s recent malaise, I won’t give up hope that the Giants will reach the top of the Football Mountain once again.

What does this have to do with “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”?

UHF Wheel of Fish


…nothing! Absolutely nothing!

…I kid, I kid… the episode does feature Football. And, much like the end of the past four Giants seasons, it hurt to watch and barely held any connection to anything.

Mike Scully actually joked that they slapped it together in the commentary. Here’s the thing – it actually does come off as rather slapdash. I think they got word that they would get the slot at the end of XXXIII, failed to come up with a good idea, and threw something together just to appease the FOX executives.

Thing is, they were placed in a timeslot where they needed some of their best work. For those that live in another country, the Super Bowl is the single biggest sports event in America, and gives the World Cup a run for it’s money in “biggest sports event in the world”. So, maybe this episode was intended as a prank on the audience?

Well, sort of. If so, it’s a pretty daring prank. It probably could’ve almost worked if it wasn’t for certain factors which I will mention later.

However, I’m grading this episode on it’s own merits. So… let’s start with the characters. Oh, sorry, I meant “random townspeople that run around with Jerkass Homer”.

On one hand, I get the variety, so to speak, of characters that are on the Super Bowl bus. I’d argue that the game is one of our great national unifiers. No matter what your political alliance, your favorite TV show, watching football is one of the most shared interests, and again, more people watch the Super Bowl than any other TV event on a year-to-year basis. That said, there seems to be little variety in the characters and their interactions. Outside of a line or two, they largely act like “football fans following a moron”. Idiots.

In particular, Wally might be among the biggest character wastes (except for a lot of Bart’s girlfriends.) There is very little about his character that is particularly memorable. I think that his role as a character was that of a loser travel agent who easily fell for scams and is self-depreciating, I guess. Still, there’s so little to work with as far as his character interactions go. Fred Willard does an acceptable job with the subpar role he’s given, but still, rather annoying.

Oh, and Homer is in full blown “bombastic” mode. It’s irritating. Thankfully, he gets a decent dose of punshiment… until he and his crew wind up in the winning locker room.

Now, the plot. Um… there was so little of consequence, I can’t even comment. It was just silly moment after silly moment, and the plot was very, very loose. Honestly, the only thing that really interested me plot-wise was Rupert Murdoch chasing the gang out of the skybox. It’s wacky, but at least it almost had substance.

If there was a good aspect of this episode, I did like some of the Super Bowl related jokes. The halftime shows were cheesy at the time this episode aired, the pre-game entertainment is even cheesier, the commercials have little to do with the product, and the game is pretty flipping brutal. Too bad there were too few of them, and we got more bombast from Homer and Co… which is made worse by the boring plot.

So, yeah. On it’s own merits, it’s a pretty subpar effort from the writers. For a Super Bowl episode, this is pretty bad. However, on a larger level, there is one major strike against this episode.

Seth MacFarlane.

This episode was the second part of Fox’s 2-part lead-out. The first part was the debut of Family Guy – the episode “Death Has A Shadow”. Truth be told, that was not a bad episode. I’m not a huge FG fan, but that episode had pretty effective (if more “blue”) comedy, a plot that had substance, and it didn’t flat out insult the intelligence of it’s audience at the end.

I don’t think “Death Has a Shadow” would draw in too many disillusioned fans of The Simpsons. However, for first time viewers of both shows, watching this after Family Guy probably didn’t impress them. (There’s nothing that says you can’t watch both shows, however.)

A poor episode at the worst possible time, not a whole lot more needs to be said about “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”. In the words of John Madden at the end of this episode, “It was kind of a ripoff! What a way to treat the loyal fans who put up so much nonsense from this franchise!” And the nonsense isn’t going to end anytime soon.

In short, watch “Lisa The Greek” instead. That’s my warp of the week for the best football-related Simpsons episode.

Tidbits:

  • Oh, yeah, there was also a subplot where Marge and Lisa paint eggs with the Vincent Price kit. It was intentionally constructed to be as boring as possible. It succeeded too well.
  • Skinner repeating a boring trip, while not joke-free, was done better in “Bart Gets Famous”. “My boy’s a box!” Oh, and there’s a rather awkward joke about Skinner being safe from shooting rampages as an Elementary School principal. It was awkward before Columbine, really awkward afterwards, and in the wake of Sandy Hook, the joke makes me wonder what the four writers (yes, four people made this) were thinking.
  • The jokes involving covering up the mouths when announcing teams was pretty silly. I know The Simpsons is intended to be a satire on our everyday world, and putting two other teams could’ve backfired badly, but I honestly would’ve jokingly put two subpar teams in that slot just for comedy purposes. It was funny when they did it with the President, if only because they made a joke later on about Al Gore measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.
  • I did find Lisa’s comment about the Catholic Church commercial (and Super Bowl commercials in general) interesting, given that, three seasons later, she went through a crisis of faith because of the commercialization of the First Church of Springfield. (Before you ask, on the FXNow edit, it’s simply referred to as “The Church”. Apparently, specifying the church caused a bit of a tizzy.) 
  • Oh, and the “big” guest stars include Willard, Madden, Pat Summerall, Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, and Rosey Grier. 
Zaniness Factor: 3.5. Silly twists and nothing of substance.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.75. Obnoxious, bombastic, and he barely gets any comeuppance – if any. (I did like the joke about him talking to President Clinton, if only because he did it before, in “Deep Space Homer”.) 
Favorite Scene: I guess I liked the scene at High Pressure Tire Sales. We’ve all been pressured to buy unnecessary stuff before.
Least Favorite Scene: The only scene to really infuriate me was John Madden’s aforementioned quote. Were they trying to get hate mail? Honestly, they should’ve just given up the slot to a second Family Guy episode. 
Score: 3.5.

Steven Universe Review: "Lion 2: The Movie" (Season 1A, Episode 17)

Honestly, the difference between this and IMAX? IMAX is slightly less deadly. Slightly.

Airdate: April 23rd, 2014

Plot: Steven and his once bubble buddy Connie want to go see Dogcopter 3, the movie based on a series of books. To try and get to the theater in time for the showing, they take Steven’s really, really pink lion. However, said lion takes a little detour through a wormhole into a cave full of armor, weaponry, and all that.

Review: We’re about ten episodes away from Steven Universe‘s first “epic” story – the “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” two parter. Those episodes are often cited as the moment that propelled Steven Universe from merely a quirky Cartoon Network cartoon into one of the most lauded science fiction shows of all time. From that moment on, episode upon episode became laden with heavy character development, emotional levity, and an awesome soundtrack from Sucrose and Co.

However, the seeds for what seems to be the show’s current critical “imperial phase” (to steal a saying coined by the Pet Shop Boys) have been sown all along – even as far back as “Gem Glow”. Few episodes in Season 1A, though, laid more seeds than “Lion 2: The Movie”
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Scullyfied Simpsons: "Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken" (Season 10, Episode 11)

Those kids may need an optometrist.

Airdate: January 17th, 1999

Synopsis: The Springfield Isotopes win the league pennant, causing a gang including Homer and his friends to vandalize the Springfield Elementary School. The next morning, the blame is pinned… on the children of Springfield, who are promptly placed under a curfew. Infuriated at this, the children proceed to set up a pirate radio show, which serves as a tabloid-esque program leaking the secrets of the townspeople.

Review (SPOILERS): When I was younger, “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken” wasn’t necessarily my favorite episode of the show. I don’t know why it didn’t like it – it really just never endeared itself to me. Strangely, though, it’s cited as one of the better ones from Season 10. Now that I’m older, and have watched some really bad Simpsons episodes, has it gotten any better?

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Steven Universe Review: "Steven The Sword Fighter" (Season 1A, Episode 16)

Pearl sword-fights Holo-Pearl.
“My name is Pearl Montoya. You killed Garnet. Prepare to die!”

Airdate: April 9th, 2014

Synopsis: A rainy movie night at the Beach House leads Pearl to mock the movie of choice, Lonely Blade IV. She lambasts the sword-fighting, in particular. One mention of this later, and the Gems go to a cloud temple, where Pearl shows Steven fencing tendencies. The simulation features a Hologram version of Pearl, who loses the first time. Pearl’s attempts to hammer into Steven that these are non-movie sword-fighting techniques, though, leave her distracted. This leads to a bit of a slip-up in the simulation.

Whoops.

Thankfully, it’s only a flesh wound, in a sense. Pearl has to stay in her gem for some time, though, so Steven tries to make do with Holo-Pearl. This seems unwise, however.

Review (SPOILERS): Remember in “So Many Birthdays”, when the Crystal Gems watched Steven almost age to death because he was emotionally disturbed by his aging and humanity? Well, here, the tables are turned, as Steven gets to watch his adoptive mother get impaled by a copy of herself. And, while that episode shifted its tone halfway through that episode, this one stabs it within the span of three and a half minutes. Impressive. (Yes, I am aware that I am going to Hell for that pun.)

As a whole, though, how does this episode stand up?
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Steven Universe Review: "Onion Trade" (Season 1A, Episode 15)

Onion from Steven Universe standing in front of fire.
“You clearly don’t know who you are shooting GUYS at, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Steven – I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets Hynes Ketchup flung in his face – you think that of me? No… I am the one who knocks!”

Airdate: March 15th, 2014

Synopsis: Steven loses his Ranger GUY, a part of his Guys Under Your Supervision collection. While his attempts to acquire one via the vending machine fail, he notices that Onion has it. Thing is, Onion, who is a rather… eccentric kid, is not willing to barter for Steven’s low-rung Dave Guys. Amethyst points to a matter replicator to try and multiply the Dave Guys even further. Onion instead takes the replicator. Hilarity ensues.

Review: “Onion Trade” is often cited by fans as among the weakest episodes of Steven Universe, if not the weakest episode of the show. The reasons why vary, from a lack of emotional impact, to a lack of comedy, to the character of Onion himself. Thus, I am faced with the question – is it as bad as everybody else says? Or is it a good episode, unfairly maligned by the SU fandom? Or, does it fall somewhere in the mushy, unremarkable middle – which, given some of the later episodes, will likely fall to the fringe?

As implied by the title, the main focus of this episode is Onion – the strange kid that tried to pop Steven and Connie’s bubble. And failed.  Oh, and the kid that won prizes that no person at his age should have, like a scooter. He’s been an oddity in the town, as far as we can see. The question remains – is he a Disco Stu-esque joke character, there just to be odd? Or will he get a day in the limelight?

Well, this episode answers the question.

In this episode, Onion serves as Steven’s direct antagonist. While Steven has faced antagonists before, this is the first time he encounters a human or humanoid antagonist, rather than a monster or a force of nature. Can I argue that the stakes are getting higher for Steven? Possibly. Still, the schism is over a rather silly thing – the Ranger Guy. We’re still in the era of the show focusing on Steven’s everyday life and the Gem interactions with humanity, rather than the space opera direction the show would take in future episodes.

So, yeah, not too deep a plot. Characters pretty much have to carry this one.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m particularly interested in Onion as a character. Is he disturbing? Well… yeah, pretty obviously. Still, I really think that the structure of this episode works as a detriment. One of the first things he does in this episode is go to his fisherman father. Look, I know that those that “ride the Downeaster Alexa”, so to speak, don’t get to talk to their families nearly enough, and that is obviously distressing.

The thing is, it’s structured in a way that comes off as “Onion’s father is gone from home a lot, therefore, Onion’s a petty criminal and a madman”. First off, I’ve been trying not to raise eyebrows when it comes to societal issues in this show (in fact, the SU fandom has a reputation of taking offense too easily that it needs to shake off), but that seems a bit of a low-blow to working class families. (Maybe it’s just me, though.) I understand that stable families can provide an emotional cornerstone for younger students, but still. Kinda also awkward for single parent families.

Second off, it seems to be placed at the beginning of the episode to try and comprehend his actions later on. Yet, it comes off as rather flimsy, given the crap Onion pulls through the episode. Let’s see – he wrecks a scooter that he all but stole, does so by messing around with ketchup packets, uses an object replicator to try and multiply the GUYS, multiplies a sedan, and shows no. Damn. Remorse. And, the worst part, he gets away with it, because his dad is at sea. Any sympathy for this character is mitigated. If, maybe, they brought up his “away” parent in the middle of the episode, maybe the sympathy would’ve carried over more effectively.

If there is one great thing, it does teach some basic economics. The rarer the item, the less likely that bartering basic goods and services will be able to work, no matter how many. Oh, and many goods also contain some sentimental value to it. Ranger Guy is more than just a rare “GUY” – it represents a bond Steven had with his dad. When he gets the Ranger Guy back, he realizes that it was the nostalgia that he held rather than the actual possession of the GUYS. His donation to Onion, while questionable, does showcase that he knows how lucky he is to have at least some contact with his dad, and helps showcase his generosity. Unfortunately, the way Onion acts in the episode, the moral feels rather off.

In fact, this entire episode feels off. Between the awkwardly handled moral and the poorly-handled character development for Onion, it just didn’t really gel with me. Even the jokes felt a bit flat, for the most part. It’s a lot like Gravity Falls’s “The Love God”, in that regard – an episode with a decent amount of potential is held back by subpar execution.

Hate to say it, but this is among the weakest episodes of SU. It’s not entirely pointless – it adds more emotional levity to the better “sequel” to this episode, “Onion Friend” – but it’s very awkward to sit through. I don’t think any other episode of the show is this awkward… at least, in a “subpar writing” way.

Tidbits:

  • OK, I loved the utter ubiquity of Dave Guy, and his eternal tax form accessory. Shows just how boring the man is, and why the machine spits his figures out. Betcha his “tax forms” note that he has nine kids, one of them is seven people, another’s part of the clergy, the eldest was wounded overseas, and his wife requires a nursing home. Also, he gave away his living room painting to promote nuclear power.
  • The acronym for GUYS is one of my all time favorite acronyms in all of TV – up there with the League Of Villainous Evildoers Maniacally United For Frightening Investments in Naughtiness. 
  • The reason why this review is going out relatively late is because a) schoolwork, b) relative apathy towards this episode, and c) as I mentioned two posts ago, I am working on my cheesy Futurama blog. Now’s the time to read it – Season 3 is when Futurama gets really interesting.
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: Garnet’s reaction to the entire GUY Flood? Smash the repilcator. Her reason?

“I’m not cleaning up this mess.”

I just love how the leader of the gang, who is supposed to be the one to look up to, is just as quick to dodge responsibility as anyone else can be, all in this one sentence.

Best Character: Steven, by default. This episode did give him some decent character development, so I’ll give him that.

Score: Fire Salt. Let me be perfectly clear – compared to episodes from other TV shows, this is actually not a bad episode. In fact, I really did like the animation and direction in this episode. It’s just not a well-written episode. I expect the best from Steven Universe. Sorry, Mr. Abrams.

Steven Universe Review: "Lars and the Cool Kids" (Season 1A, Episode 14)

There’s probably some form of symbolism in this image… or maybe I’m just seeing things.

Airdate: March 10th, 2014

Synopsis: Steven’s quest for lunch lands him against Lars’s continued attempts to come off as cool, and thus, get involved with the “Cool Kids” – Sour Cream, Buck Dewey, and Jenny. Hilariously enough, Steven manages to talk to them, and convince them to bring along the kid and Lars. They take a trip up to “Dead Man’s Mouth”, a lake that contains a lot of moss… moss that was grown and treated by Rose. It’s also moss that will overtake whatever it touches in a matter of seconds.

Review (SPOILERS): Before we begin, I should mention that “Lars and the Cool Kids”, if my memory serves me correctly, was among the first episodes of Steven Universe I recall watching. (I think I may have seen “Gem Glow” and “Laser Light Cannon” before, though.) I don’t recall watching the episodes first run until StevenBomb 3 (“Cry for Help”, to be more specific), and I don’t remember when I saw this episode, but, hey, this was an interesting intro to the show.

One of the first characters introduced in the Steven Universe canon (if the pilot is discounted), Lars set the stage as a direct contrast to Steven. Cynical, insensitive, snarky, and brash, Lars is the closest thing the show had to a reoccurring antagonist in Season 1A – the “sitcom” days, when Steven rolled around in a bubble with the new kid in town, when he became a pro-wrestler, when his attempts to be a birthday clown almost killed him.

Where was I? Oh, yes – Lars. The show’s shift to more dramatic themes put him out of the picture, to an extent. However, he does get to shine in “Lars and the Cool Kids”, an episode that shows him and some cool kids interact with the fantastical world of the Crystal Gems.

So, what d’ya expect – Lars is an ass, right? Well… true, he’s dismissive and cocky, but this episode makes him out to be a more complex creature than the one we saw in “Gem Glow”. This episode, as implied, seems to indicate his desire to be at what he considers to be among the “teen elite” – the titular cool kids. To do this, he tries his damndest to imitate their patterns of behavior, but, in his mindset (and, to an extent, in execution), can’t really seem to impress them.

Steven, however, manages to form something of a closer connection with the teenagers. Thing is, the kid doesn’t pretend to be somebody he isn’t – he’s upfront, acts genuine, all that jazz. This tells us that what brings the teenagers together is their honesty and genuine behavior. (I’ll talk about the group in a bit)

However, this connection is still not perfect – there’s a pretty obvious “maturity” gap that goes both ways. Steven, being a kid, has interests typical of your average pre-teen. The gang of three… eh, not so much. Ironically, while Steven has a curiosity about the lake, he is also well-aware of the dangers it possesses, mainly due to prior experience (read, the beginning of the episode). The teens, though, go in, and get covered in moss.

Admittedly, the “subverted lionization of the fallible cool kids” is a bit of a cliche, although the show does show them not as jerks, but as merely impressionable teenagers who are frank with their speech and their actions. That’s a pretty quirky characterization strategy by Lamar Abrams (who voices Buck) and Matt Braly. On that note, we do learn a more about these “cool kids” than the fact that they are cool. We get a peek at some of their families, the dynamics of said families, and they all have at least somewhat distinct personalities. Pretty good, considering that this is an 11-minute episode.

This, though, returns us to the subject at hand – Lars. Yes, this episode fleshes him out beyond the obnoxious teen that we saw mocking Steven and Connie. Indeed, he is insecure about his popularity, and, as mentioned above, desires to be the cream of the crop. There is a problem, though – not only is he unnatural, he’s also a jackass. Compounding that last part, he turns into a jackass at the worst possible time, saying one of the worst possible things, to the worst possible person.

He insults Steven’s mom as the others face suffocation from moss.

With that, friendly, kind Steven? Out the window. Yet, his character is not compromised at all – if anything, it might very well have been developed. His quote after Lars mocks’s Steven’s “weird mom”?

What do you know about my Mom?! I didn’t even get to know my mom! But I do know, she saw beauty in everything – even in stuff like this… and even in jerks like you!

Sure, it’s typical for a pre-teen to defend their parents. Steven’s reaction is, therefore, very much realistic. There’s also an emotional levity to this scene, because it really shows that, no matter what, Lars definitely crossed a line of acceptable conversation.

Here’s the thing – at the beginning of the episode, Pearl noted that Rose kept the moss because “she saw the beauty in everything, no matter how gross”. Indeed, this is Steven making a statement based largely on Pearl’s declaration. In effect, Steven does follow Pearl’s view of Rose without really questioning it. Granted, Steven was right about the moss. And, again, he is a kid – we have idealized views of our parents at a young age. Imagine, though, if Rose is revealed have some distaste for anything – where she couldn’t get past her negative feelings. That would be a shocker.

Conversely, though, in that same scene, he becomes the leader of the crew – ordering Lars to drag the trio up to the top of the mountain. That’s what makes him stand out, and places him above Lars in terms of people’s opinions – Steven is willing to take some level of initiative, even if it’s not always correct. (Again, in this case, he was more than correct, but still.) Yet, popularity isn’t necessarily Steven’s ambition. Friendship? Yes. But not necessarily popularity – he dodges responsibility for saving their lives, tossing it to Lars instead.

Remember this – we’ll get back to this theme in around a few dozen episodes. And it will be brilliant.

There’s really a lot to like about this episode, as a whole. It fleshes out Lars to be more relatable and, thus, sympathetic; it gives some emotional levity to Steven; and it twists around cliches. Oh, and the animation, yet again, is flipping gorgeous. “Lars and the Cool Kids” is easily among the better episodes of season 1A. Even if you plan to skip most of 1A (which, honestly, I don’t see why), make one of the exceptions this episode.

Tidbits:

  • While I’ve mentioned the voice acting before, I don’t think I’ve mentioned Zach Callison’s voice acting yet. Like the others, he does a great job. The “I didn’t get to know my mom” rant, besides adding pathos to Steven’s situation, is also done so well. Besides the shock, his voice actually breaks at the start of the rant, before turning into full-blown anger. The best part? As far as I’m concerned, it only gets better.
  • Kudos to Pearl summoning, from her gem… police tape. In fact, she even declares that, once put up (with a bow, even) that it is practically an impenetrable membrane. Even Mr. Spock was more in tune with human behavior than Pearl. Even more damning – she’s been on Earth for centuries – millennia, even. Methinks she doesn’t go outside often, nor has she paid attention to human history since early on. As the science officer would say, this gem is illogical.
    • This does lead to my one nitpick about this episode. I know that the Gems themselves aren’t too in tune with human customs, but even I find it hard to believe that Garnet and Amethyst are so accepting of this theory of heeding police tape that they wouldn’t voice any objection. I’ll let it slide for pacing purposes, and maybe I’m missing something, but please.
  • Also of note – Buck Dewey is the Mayor’s son. I love how, in contrast to his father’s attempts to build the perfect public image (as seemingly typical of his field), Buck doesn’t really give a damn about image. He just seems to be awesome.
  • My question is this… why is Sour Cream’s voice so deep? Dude rivals Worf in “Deepest Voices in American Science Fiction”.
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: “What do you know about my mom?” That entire rant from Steven is the emotional centerpiece of the episode.
Best Character: Lars – hey, he’s actually fairly likable in this episode, even if he is a bit of an ass.
Score: Silver. But, it’s very close to Gold, and is only held back by my insistence that Gold should go to more memorable episodes of the show.