Scullyfied Simpsons: “The Old Man And The “C” Student” (Season 10, Episode 20)

simpsonsoldmanandthecstudent
Oh, dear! Now you’ve done it!

          “I want some taquitos!” – Jasper. No, not that one…

Airdate: April 25th, 1999

Written By: Julie Thacker

Plot: The IOC’s plan to give Springfield the 2000 Summer Olympics falls apart when Bart’s comedy routine offends the entire committee. As punishment, Skinner forces him to volunteer at the Retirement Castle. He finds the environment there overly restrictive to the elderly. Lisa, a frequent volunteer there, disagrees and argues that the environment there caters to their desires. Cue a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest parody.

Meanwhile, Homer’s attempts at making a mascot – Springy – collapse with the Olympics bid. With an entire crate of springs to sell, he decides to embark on – guess what – a new career selling springs. It does not go well – particularly for Lenny’s eye.

Review:

Let’s be real here – the elderly aren’t treated well in The Simpsons. I mean, when this show was on all four cylinders, nobody was (“nuts and gum” was not a compliment), but man, oh, man, did the elderly get the shaft. Rather than wise and learned elders, they tended to be crotchety, senile (“I SAID FRENCH FRIES!”), dumped into decrepit retirement homes where they decline in more depressing ways than ever before… even the most successful senior in the show is not only a ruthless and heartless businessman (for now, at least), but hysterically behind the times in some areas. (“I’d like to send this letter to the Prussian consulate in Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 autogyro?”) It’s all about waiting out the clock until they die, which knowing The Simpsons, is a long, long, long time.

Since I compared the last Simpsons episode I reviewed to a Season 2 episode, may as well do the same here – this time with one of my favorites, “Old Money”. There, the Retirement Castle is dilapidated, everybody wants to take the elderly’s money, their families them on token trips while ignoring their interests, etc. Should somebody ever accuse The Simpsons of being weaksauce, I will throw on episodes like “Old Money” – which manages to fuse brutal social satire with a rather sweet ending – to inform them that this show once had guts.

Speaking of which, “The Old Man and the “C” Student”.

Full disclosure – I have not seen One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I really do need to improve the breadth of my pop culture diet a little. That said…

Yeah, all the horrors of the retirement castle? Leaving the elderly to their own devices, treating them with no dignity at all, and everything else I mentioned above? Well, this episode takes a different spin on it. Everything at the retirement castle is safe, sanitized, and done in perfect precision. I guess was an attempt to analyze how society treats our elders with kid gloves, institutionalizing them to the point where they become dependent on overt schedules.

The problem lies in the fact that the episode does the same flipping thing. Rather than crotchety and angry like they once were, they actually have the mentality of children. They follow whatever their assistant at the moment says and don’t have any sort of unique characteristics (even Abe gets whittled down compared to “Curse of the Flying Hellfish). It’s gutless characterization, that’s made worse by the fact that the scenes featuring them are so flipping boring. I mean, what would you rather see for a bit of comedy? This?

the-old-man-and-the-c-student

Or this?

ourresidentsaretryingtonap

Just putting the question out there.

Even then, this episode isn’t so much a “senior” episode as much as it is a “Bart vs. Lisa” episode. I mean, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but, again, it’s all in how you handle it. Here, it feels like they’re treading old beats – Lisa’s the responsible, albeit boring, sibling; Bart, the rebel, albeit the short-sighted one. None of the jokes work, partially because their beats are so predictable. It feels like this show is running on fumes at this point.

Not only is there no characterization, but there’s strikingly little cohesion in the plot. It goes from “Olympics” to “seniors” at the tail end of the first half. The Simpsons had some differing lead-ins to the main plot before, but this is one of the most jarring. I mean, the only thing connecting the two is a subplot where Homer makes a mascot for the Olympic Games – the Springfield Spring.

And, yeah, that’s a plot as well. Add another two strikes to the “Homer Gets A Job” column – mascot designer and door-to-door salesman. The former is a success, I’m assuming because of the pun. The latter? Well, it just leads to jokes about springs ranging from the boring to the downright uncomfortable. Add to that Homer alternating between getting hurt or putting others in harm’s way, and you have a plot I don’t care about.

Strangely, the two plots intersect in the weirdest of ways. Bart takes the seniors out on a boat ride, where they partay – although they still get confused and think that they’re getting their daily dose of pills. They intersect with Mr. Burns’ boat, which devastates the stern. The bow is pulled away by Jack LaLanne because… the writers had a guest spot and needed to destroy the boat even further, so why the hell not. The boat goes down, and they all prepare to die…

…only for the boat to bounce on the springs that were flushed down the toilet. Several times. Enough to ensure everybody’s rescue. The Simpsons has had some departures from reality before, but those were either a) meant for a joke, or b) had some sort of social commentary and still had some level of reality in it. This was just stupid.

Oh, does it help if I mention that this was written by Mike Scully’s wife?

Yup, not only is Julie Thacker the writer and one of the show’s producers, but she’s also married to the man in charge. That’s not suspect at all! It’s worth noting that after his run as Simpsons showrunner ended, Scully and Thacker would go on to create The Pitts and Complete Savages. Neither of these shows has been remembered – with the former only lasting four episodes in the United States, being one of a litany of early-2000s sitcoms to flop for FOX. (You screwed over Futurama for that?)

And if this is any indication of the quality of her work, I wonder why.

I honestly had no freaking idea what this episode was trying to do. The A-plot was boring, the B-plot was pretty idiotic, and their combined conclusion stretched believability way too thin. The worst part is that there was little in the way of comedy to make up for it.

This, in some ways, is worse than “Make Room For Lisa”. That episode had epic character derailment and an ending that went beyond “dodgy”. This is just boring with, what, three funny jokes in the last two acts?

Same Rib, Two Different Tones:

I know this is going to sound like a nitpick, but I just want to bring it up. Second act, the family are having dinner. The time, according to the establishing shot, is night.709691

After a conversation, Homer’s box of springs shows up on the front door. He takes the order…740055

…and it’s day. It seems stupid to complain about, but these are rather simple animation errors. What, they couldn’t shade the background a different shade of blue? Or purple? Or animate a house or wall or two in the background? It feels like they rushed it out without a spot check. If so, why not? Did Rupert Murdoch slice the show’s budget to afford more lawyers for The Sun? Did Mike Scully want to finish the rest of the episodes up so he could go on a vacation to Orlando?

Thanks, News Corp! (And the directors and producers – up to and including Thacker.) Chances are, nobody got fired for that blunder.

Tidbits:

  • The start, actually isn’t too bad, with the IOC unsure of where to host the 2000 Olympics. Of note is the Russian diplomat bowing out because the Ruble was worthless. This was back when Russia was still trying to adjust to the post-Soviet capitalism, one that had backfired and bilked scores out of their newfound money. President Boris Yeltsin would resign with record low approval ratings by the end of 1999, giving the job to some guy who likes hunting.
  • So, yeah, did Skinner actually like that comedy routine? I mean, he’s failable, but that’s stretching believability quite a bit. If there was even an indication – even a subtle one – that it was bait-and-switch on Bart’s part, I would buy it. But, no. They ignore it. This writing, man.
  • One of Homer’s springs lands in Lenny’s eye – starting a trend of Lenny’s eye getting injured in ways cringeworthy and less so. Also, Skinner punches Homer down while he’s covered in springs – and repeats several times.
  • This episode also contains a prime example of unnecessarily expository dialogue that would be one of the Jean-era’s greatest hangups. “Oh, no! Bart has stolen the elderly!” Yes, because I couldn’t infer that from Bart stealing the elderly the scene prior. You could’ve just had Lisa look on in shock.

Wrap Up:

Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.5. He sells dangerous springs, bounces his child around like a basketball, and flushes the springs down the toilet.

Zaniness Factor: 3.5. Said springs save the seniors (and the Simpson children) from drowning.

Favorite Scene: By a mile, the seniors watching an edit of Gone With The Wind. “Didn’t this movie use to have a war in it?” “Come on – get up! You’ve been warned!” If there were more stabs at the retirement home of that caliber, maybe I would’ve liked the episode more.

Least Favorite Scene: Act three appears to be Mike Scully’s Achilles heel – but I particularly disliked the Jack LaLanne cameo. In an episode filled with air, that scene was particularly pointless. They had time to fill, so why not get Jack LaLanne on the air?

Score: 3.5. The few good jokes in this episode rescued it from the depths of despair. And, who knows, maybe the next episode will treat it’s characters properly and with more dignity…

simpsonsburnsjerryrude

…you know what? I need to review some Star Trek.

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