Scullyfied Simpsons: “Grift of the Magi” (Season 11, Episode 9)

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Give it time – something’s gonna happen involving a charter school, and somebody’s going to proclaim The Simpsons as having become Nostradamus yet again.

Lisa in trouble – the ironing is delicious!”  – Bart Simpson. You see, this particular charter school doesn’t do much book learning.

Airdate: December 19th, 1999

Written By: Tom Martin

Plot: Springfield Elementary School is coerced into a construction project to bring the school up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the Mafia in charge construct an opulent system… that breaks with a single touch… all while taking the money and running. Out of cash, and with nobody willing or able to fund the school, Springfield Elementary is turned into a charter – brought out by Kid First Industries. However, the new operator is not only poor at their educational philosophy themselves, but are using the school to do market research into a hot new toy.

Review:

Well, it’s the holiday season! Here’s hoping you’re all enjoying nice cocoa, hoping for a white Christmas, not getting tired of the 24/7 Christmas Music on the radio quite yet, and…

…wait, what the hell? It’s July? Everybody’s having burgers, celebrating the World Cup, and going to baseball games? They’re hanging out at the beach, eating ice cream, and going across their nation or down to Spain?

OK, did my fellow Americans at least have the common knowledge to learn from the defensive end from the greatest sports team to ever walk the Earth, and make sure the fireworks they set off on the fourth didn’t blow up in their hand?

Ah, what the hell, let’s watch some more Simpsons – “Grift of the Magi”.

“Grift of the Magi” is the fourth Simpsons Christmas special ever. The first, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, was the show’s opening salvo, demonstrating the working class dysfunction with a heart of gold that powered the show in its glory years. The second, “Marge Be Not Proud”, has been generally well-received, but a small contingent of fans led by one Dead Homer Society considers the episode the worst episode of the first seven years of The Simpsons, as well as the opening salvo of the show’s decline into more traditional sitcom-ish plots and cloying emotion. The third, “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”, is more divisive – and I personally dislike it for a failure to achieve a decent tonal balance.

So here we are. Season 11. The Scully Era is in its third year, and the critical reception towards the show has soured, at least from the more devoted fans. How would they pull off this Christmas episode? Would it have been an improvement, proving they learned their lesson? Or would it have been disastrous as the writing crew stops giving a damn? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

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Sketching The Next Several Months of The Review Nebula

Hey, look – I posted for the first time in a week and change!

Yeah, sorry about that. I have no real excuse this time. I got a bit caught up in World Cup action (really, Germany), took advantage somewhat of the nice weather here on Long Island… but really, those aren’t even great excuses.

Simply put, I think I hit something of a writer’s block with my recent review, for reasons that will become apparent when it posts tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, the next few things I’m reviewing should pique everybody’s interest. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Take My Wife, Sleaze” (Season 11, Episode 8)

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No, I did not find this on DeviantArt. (ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL!)

“When you get a job interview, try not to call your employer a punk, or a skank.”  – Marge Simpson. Give this episode credit – we could take her advice here.

Airdate: November 28th, 1999

Written By: John Swartzwelder

Plot: A trip to a 50s kitsch diner lands Homer a motorcycle in a dance competition. Having learned to ride it, he decides to start up his motorcycle gang. They mainly serve to commit petty annoyances around town. But trouble starts when a biker gang with the same name as Homer’s gang comes into town, livid.

Review:

Season 11 of The Simpsons is a season that, quite frankly, doesn’t know what the hell it’s really doing so far.

On one hand, you have episodes such as “Eight Misbehavin”, “Days of Wine and Do’hses”, and “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily”. These episodes attempted to dramatically shift the status quo of one of the most iconic television franchises in all of history. However, most of these changes didn’t concern the immediate Simpson family. Which is fine, except that these episodes would ultimately mix in the Simpson family, by which I mean, Jerkass Homer would be welcomed into their lives despite oftentimes screwing things up royally. Besides that, these episodes couldn’t resist a lot of trappings of it’s contemporaries – attempts at seriousness and occasional social commentary were damaged by the inane plot twists, increasingly unsympathetic characterization of our protagonist, and the show losing grip of reality.

Then, of course, there are episodes that don’t really pretend to be about anything and tend to revolve more around stuff happening. They’re both equally bad – the “serious” episodes often befuddle (if not outright offend) me because of how poorly they measure up to their predecessors in Seasons 1-8, while the latter… well, they have no freaking structure at all.

Hence, “Take My Wife, Sleaze”, or as I like to call it, “We made Homer an artist and a director already, let’s make him a biker.” Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Eight Misbehavin” (Season 11, Episode 7)

Eight Misbehavin

“They’re a ravenous swarm of locusts just eating and screaming and grabbing and poking and pulling and drooling, and two have cradle rash. How do you get cradle rash when you sleep in a suitcase?” – Apu, describing the confusing realities of having children.

Airdate: November 21st, 1999

Written By: Matt Selman

Plot: A meeting with the Simpson clan at the Shøp department store gives Apu and Manjula baby fever. In spite of their efforts, they wind up having trouble conceiving. Thankfully, an attempt involving a poorly-written script winds up successful, and with the help of everybody giving Manjula fertility drugs (including Manjula herself), an attempt at one baby leads to eight children. The initial shock is later replaced with stress, as the media coverage eventually collapses, leaving the duo on their own.

Review:

Full disclosure – no, I’m not using this review to analyze The Problem With Apu and the Simpsons recent reaction thereof in a manner of “is Apu a caricature”. I’m not South Asian, I’ll let them come to a democratic consensus on whether or not Apu (or at least modern Apu) is beyond the pale. All I’ll say is that the writers’ response in a recent episode was so poorly executed in terms of characterization and dialogue, as well as so childishly ham-fisted, that it would’ve destroyed any point they made. Even if they admitted fair play to Problem With Apu, they likely would’ve done so in a way that sunk the show.

Moments like that make me embarrassed to have become a Simpsons fan in the first place, and that recent response honestly made me contemplate reassigning the spot of “favorite show” to either Gravity Falls or Red Dwarf again, because at least those shows didn’t call their critics jackasses while producing some of the most incompetently written television of all time.*

Speaking of which, Season 11. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” (Season 11, Episode 6)

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“Mr. Simpson bowled a perfect game without the aid of steroids, crack, angel dust, or the other narcotics that are synonymous with pro-bowling.” – Edna Krabappel. You heard her, kids – stay off drugs, you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame. (Hey, better than nothing… I guess.)

Airdate: November 14th, 1999

Written By: Al “Recession-Proof” Jean

Plot: Homer’s most recent attempt to brush off a rough day at work (which involved being told to eat toxic waste) not only proves successful, it nets him a perfect game at the Bowl-O-Rama. His accomplishment nets him a brief dip into local fame. However, ego gets to his head (again), and when his fifteen minutes are up, he’s left in something of an existential crisis.

Review:

It was pop artist and professional Soup Can icon Andy Warhol who infamously remarked that everybody has their “fifteen minutes of fame” – they enter the public consciousness for some reason for a brief period or something, and then they move on to the next unlucky victim.

Being as wide-reaching as it is, The Simpsons has touched on these topics before, notably in Season 5 – “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” took on the concept by throwing four of Springfield’s most notable adult males and mixing it in with one of the best Beatles satires of all time, while “Bart Gets Famous” took on the art of the catchphrase and how it turns people into shooting stars, sending them high only to carry a huge burnout factor. They were insightful, funny, brilliant, tightly plotted, all that jazz.

Six years later, we got “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder”… which is not really any of those things. At all. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “E-I-E-I-D’oh!” (Season 11, Episode 5)

E-I-E-I-D'oh

“That’s pretty clever, Dad. I mean, for a product that’s evil and deadly!” – Lisa, trying her hand at marketing criticism. Hey, she was a food critic, sort of.

Airdate: November 7th, 1999
Written ByIan Maxtone-Graham
Plot: Homer’s newfound penchant for declaring duels to get what he wants ends badly, when a Southern Gentleman takes up on his offer. Facing a duel by pistol, he and the family skip town and become farmers. Initially unsuccessful, they wind up tapping into an untapped market, thanks to some tobacco seeds, some tomato seeds, and radiation.

Review:

Over the past few seasons, The Simpsons has slowly embraced weirder, more outlandish elements in their plots. While there was always a cartoonish aura to the show, most of these elements in the first eight seasons were there for a quick joke, particularly in the David Mirkin era. Suddenly, with the Mike Scully Era taking hold, entire plots began shifting in the third act to a more cartoonish climax – ironically, as the animation became more stolid, and as the rest of the writing skills (characterization, plot development) began flatlining.

Season 11, in particular, is infamous for these more zany twists. Examples given include a swordfight between Homer and a motorcycle gang, Maggie gaining superhuman strength in a time of crisis, self-dancing tap shoes, and everybody’s favorite, the society of evil jockeys.

“E-I-E-I-D’oh!”, in particular, has a rather interesting “third-act twist” – one where Homer, during his new job (again) farming, becomes a tobacco baron. Thanks to tomatoes. And plutonium.

No, this wasn’t written on cannabis, as far as I am aware. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Treehouse of Horror X” (Season 11, Episode 4)

Treehouse of Horror X

Airdate: October 31st, 1999. (The stars aligned that year…)

Well, here we are – “Treehouse of Horror X”. As its name suggests, it is the tenth Treehouse of Horror. Naturally, like the one before and the one before that, my review of it has come out around Halloween. Eerie coincidence, or fantastic planning? Eh, there’s a good idea to support both theories.

Now, I am aware that I didn’t do a Halloween-themed special last year, for a couple of reasons. A, I tend to slack during October due to the presence of midterms and papers and stuff. B, there was no Halloween-themed episode directly in my review schedule (although one could interpret “Warp Tour” as a bit of psychological terror). Finally, and more coincidentally than a direct aversion, that election was freaky enough.

But here we are… yet again, it’s TRILOGY TIME!

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner” (Season 11, Episode 3)

Simpsons Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner

“Only your father can take a part-time job at a smalltown paper, and wind up the target of international assassins!” – Marge Simpson. Don’t worry, ma’am – at least he hasn’t become the enemy of the Federation of Jockeys. Yet.

Airdate: October 24th, 1999

Written by: Al “President for Life of The Simpsons” Jean.

Plot: While on a field trip to the Springfield Shopper newspaper, Homer winds up tracing the smell of food back to a food critic’s retirement party. His love of edibles convinces the paper’s manager (played by Ed Asner) to ask him to run a pilot. Unfortunately, he can’t write a good review, so Lisa helps him land the job. While things go well at first with his glowing analysis, he’s pressured to shift to a more critical tone. The lengths he goes in this new style not only alienate Lisa, but lead a mob of restaurant owners to plot his assassination.

Review:

The art of critique is strange. The cliché “everybody’s a critic” comes from the fact that anybody can look at a work of art and deem it either sublime or subpar. And on the age of the internet, even a dork like me can rant about Steven Universe, and somebody can read it before clicking onto Roger Ebert’s review of My Dinner With Andre. Such is the brilliance of our relatively egalitarian society, as well as the beauty of the internet.

But what, exactly, makes a good critic? That’s a question that can only result in subjective responses. If on one hand, you take a critical eye to everything, then you come off as an unpleasable grouch. On the other hand, if you take a positive view of everything, you come off as a sycophant to the show. The latter, personally speaking, is my biggest fear. I’ve criticized Gravity Falls and Steven Universe on occasion, but I sometimes wonder if I was (or am) too loose on occasion because I love(d) the show so much. And many of my early reviews, man… I don’t delete them on the grounds that, hey, we’ve all gotta look back on our early stuff sometimes and wonder how far we’ve come.

The art of critique is put on display in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”, episode 3 of Season 11 of The Simpsons. So, let’s critique an episode… about critique…

…this is strangely meta… Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Brother’s Little Helper” (Season 11, Episode 2)

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C’mon people – this poetry isn’t gonna appreciate itself!” – Bart Simpson, of all people. Drugs – they do weird things.

Airdate: October 3rd, 1999

Written By: George Meyer

Plot: One of Bart’s stunts during a Fire Prevention event at Springfield Elementary results in the destruction of the gym. Having had enough, Skinner concluds that Bart has Attention Deficit Disorder, and makes his enrollment at the school conditional on a prescription of Focusyn – an experimental drug meant to combat ADD symptoms. While Bart does become much more focused, there’s also the odd side effects, such as a paranoia about satellites spying on him…

Review:

Well, episode 1 of Season 11 was a bust. Next time I want to watch a satire of Mel Gibson, I’ll just throw on that South Park episode where he turns into Daffy Duck and goes full blown Road Warrior because two kids dared criticize his movie. Not even the shifty-eyed dog could save that.

Thankfully, the season does improve with “Brothers Little Helper”. While flawed, I do think it does more to capture what The Simpsons can do at its best – analyze our society, in this case, mental disorders and how we diagnose/treat them, alongside the pharmaceutical industry. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Beyond Blunderdome” (Season 11, Episode 1)

Homer yelling at Mel Gibson in
Our hero – proclaiming his wife as property because Mel Gibson is at the front door. Were these writers trying to make him unlikable?

Movie tickets? That’s hardly worth destroying a car!” – Homer Simpson. To be fair, that is a fine piece of logic, that I’m sure will carry through the season.

Airdate: September 26th, 1999

Written By: Mike Scully

Plot: An electric car manufacturer entices potential buyers to test drive with possible gifts. Homer’s reward for test-driving (read, destroying) the car is two tickets to a test screening of Mel Gibson’s newest movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. While Marge (who is infatuated with Mel) loves the movie like most of the audience, Homer is much more critical. It’s Homer’s critique that gets through to Gibson, however, and the duo embark on a controversial edit of the film to amp up the action.

Review:

Wow! I’m actually impressed! I can tell from this episode alone that Season 11 is going to be haphazard. That takes a special kind of effort, writers, but you showed it! Good for you – enjoy my somewhat neurotic rant on this episode.

Yup, Season 11 starts off on a rather… less than satisfactory note with the aptly-titled “Beyond Blunderdome”. (They tried to make a punny, and they made a funny in ways they didn’t imagine.) So, what do we have here? Jerkass Homer? Homer getting a job? Zany schemes? Jerkass Homer getting a zany job? Well, you guess right if you got the latter, but there is one big issue with this episode that would damage it, even without the Mike Scully cliches.

It’s a love letter.

To Mel Gibson. Continue reading