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

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Scullyfied Simpsons: "I’m With Cupid" (Season 10, Episode 14)

 

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“Both of my ears are filled with nougat!”

 

“You told me that it was an American tradition to work all the time and not see your wife!” – Manjula, to Apu. Give it 17 years, Manjula…

Airdate: February 14th, 1999

Plot: In 2005, in response to developments regarding Anglo-American relations, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe penned “I’m With Stupid”, a satire on a theoretical romance between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush.

Whoops – this is a television episode… Patrick is afraid that his parents will mock him for being rather stupid. Therefore, SpongeBob decides to take up the role of “The Fool”.

…I’m sorry, this is “I’m With Cupid”, not “I’m With Stupid.”

Apu’s relationship with Manjula is on the rocks. Apparently, the life of a convenience store manager isn’t exactly conducive to free time. To make it up to her, Apu goes all out in his Valentines Day celebrations. This, though, alienates the wives of Springfield’s men. They all proceed to sabotage the actual Valentines Day celebration.

Review:

Two years ago (because I am a lazy bum), during my coverage of Season 9, I reviewed “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons”. There, my complaint lied in the fact that the episode revolved around Homer’s antics, and was overall rather pedestrian. In hindsight, though, I can recognize some of the character development in that episode, even if I would’ve preferred more. That, and it was a pretty funny episode.

“I’m With Cupid” serves as a follow up to that episode… but it ultimately feels a bit underwhelming. Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Bart the Mother" (Season 10, Episode 3)

Now to figure out which one is Chirpy Boy and Bart Jr. The madness! THE MADNESS!
Airdate: September 27th, 1998

Synopsis: Bart kills a bird, raises it’s babies, and it turns out it wasn’t the bird’s babies that he was raising.

More specifically, Bart defies his mother by hanging out with Nelson, who just acquired a BB gun at an arcade. One false move, and not only is a bird dead, but Marge finds out and decides to give up on trying to interact with him. Feeling utter guilt, Bart decides to raise the eggs as his own… and lizards wind up hatching.

Review: Ah, ZZZZZZ… oh, sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, this episode. A pretty blasé, boring half hour… well, the first two acts, anyway. The third act, I don’t know what happened.

The first part of the episode is so boring, that I don’t think I’m gonna go in depth here. This might be my shortest review since I don’t even know when.

Basically, the first two acts are “Marge Be Not Proud”… but with BB guns and birds instead of video game theft and christmas. I think the use of Nelson was an attempt to show how bad first impressions can be, except that, it actually makes sense that Marge wouldn’t be a fan of Bart hanging out with Nelson. That, and at least “Marge Be Not Proud” actually used subtle emotions, instead of the dramatic over-explaining in this episode… as if the audience were too stupid to know that Marge was fed up.

What a sea change.

Not only that, but I think the character traits explored have been handled better in previous episodes. Marge’s over-protective, somewhat hypocritical principles were already touched upon in “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge”. Bart’s own self-doubt was already hit upon in “Bart Gets an F”, and his relationship with his mother, “Marge Be Not Proud”. All of these episodes handled those conflicts in more complex, interesting ways.

The moments after Marge gives up are definitely better – not that much, but still. Bart, feeling guilt, raises the bird for himself. While I don’t think Bart feeling a certain level of guilt is out of character (I refer you to “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song”, and his guilt over getting Skinner fired), here, it goes a bit too over the top, and thus, feels a bit out of character for him. Or maybe the episode’s boring-ness got to me. That, and it did give us a gold Troy McClure film strip… unfortunately, it would be the last ever. (See below.)

Now, the third act is actually pretty decent. As wacky a twist it was, the reveal of the lizards actually added some strange sense of life into this episode. Plus, having Bart try to defend his lizards actually creates an interesting parallel. In the end, I think that “Bart the Mother” was trying to put Bart in Marge’s shoes – that he will still defend what, to an extent, are his children, even if they give people some hell.

Oh, and I did like the twist on environmental balance. The lizards were an invasive species who were killing off other animals. To an extent, this provides the question – is it part of the circle of life? Are we really doing harm by leaving these animals/reptiles be? As far as I know, this environmental analysis was unintentional, much like the ending to “Trash of the Titans”, another episode that I have mixed feelings for. Kinda cool that we aren’t in the anvil dropping zone yet, that the writers can still do subtle social commentary.

Too bad this episode wasn’t that memorable.

Let’s just wrap it up here – it’s a rather boring episode. Sadly, I think it could’ve been sweet if it didn’t take a path that was far too similar to “Marge Be Not Proud”, and syphon the comedy from that episode. Analyzing Bart isn’t a bad thing, but they’ve done it quite a bit better. (Take a look at “Bart Gets an F”, or “Bart Sells His Soul”.) It passes, but that’s more because nothing in this episode really offended me.

Tidbits:

  • Interestingly, Nancy Cartwright has cited this as among her most-loved episodes, because of the soul searching. Not gonna bash her opinion… just disagree with her.
  • This was the last episode written by David Cohen before he left to create Futurama with Matt Groening. Interesting that around the same time Futurama premiered, The Simpsons began its fall from grace.
  • On a more somber note, as I alluded to above, this was also the last episode to feature Phil Hartman – this time, in the aforementioned Troy McClure film strip. For those unaware, on May 28th, 1998, Hartman’s wife shot him three times before turning the gun on herself. A coroner’s report suggested that she was under the influence of drugs. It was a shocking and grisly end, and silenced one of the greatest comics of the 80s and 90s. Out of tribute, the writers decided to silence their characters. For that, I give Mike Scully respect. Similar props to Al Jean, for keeping it up with Hartman’s characters.
Favorite Scene: The Troy McClure script. You will be missed, Phil.
Least Favorite Scene: Marge turning her back on Bart was done far better in “Marge Be Not Proud”, mainly because of subtlety.
Zaniness Factor: 2.5. Lizards? Really?
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1.5 – mainly for getting beaten up at the batting cage. Granted, I did like the lightbulb gags.
Score: 5.5

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lard of the Dance" (Season 10, Episode 1)

Airdate: August 23, 1999

Synopsis: At the dawn of a new school year, Lisa has to meet up with a transfer student. Unlike the previous transfer student, this new transfer student, Alex Whitney (Lisa Kurdow, Friends), is a fashion-oriented, modern “adult”-like child in the same grade as Lisa, who still enjoys the pursuits of childhood.

Meanwhile, Homer gets the first of many, many, many jobs this season when he realizes the market value of grease. He and Bart try and usurp grease from various sources… including the school.

Review: The tenth season premiere is, in some ways, a bit of a “Deja Vu” moment. By which, I mean, it’s all but a remake of “Lisa’s Rival” – Lisa meets a new girl and has a rocky relationship with her, and Homer enters a money-making scheme.

It’s how these two episodes execute their plots, though, that differs vastly, and in the case of the “Homer” plot, makes this episode weaker in comparison.

Lisa’s plot revolves around what seems to be an attempt to treat children like tiny adults in society. It was relevant then, and it’s relevant now. We see children given access to cell phones, allowed to operate credit cards, dressing up in styles more suited for adults, etc. It’s a bit concerning, given that the mind of a child is not as developed as the adult mind. I’m glad that the show addressed this. Honestly, this shows that even the Scully era – one lambasted by reviewers for transitioning the show to a mindless sitcom – could tackle social issues. It’s early yet in Scully’s tenure, though.

My problem, again, comes from the execution, which seems a tad bit uneasy.

On one hand, I can appreciate the idea that Lisa does have a more “childish” streak – we’ve seen it in earlier episodes, and it makes the character more believable. However, here, it seems like they stuck in traits that the writers thought second graders like Lisa had. The end result is an ending monologue that has some issues with character – I don’t really buy into Lisa supporting the idea of “talking in church” and “chewing with her mouth open”.

I also find her being appointed manager of the school disco and her bouts of maturity including watching The McLaughlin Group, while somewhat funny, to be a bit of a harbinger of her future characterization as an overt political activist who acts like a college student… which is a bit ironic, if you think about it. Of course, it could be (and probably is) a stab at the aforementioned show, but I just thought the coincidence muddled some of the comedy.

Otherwise, I think that it was relatively “color by numbers” – Lisa is unpopular, and there’s something like a “be yourself” message at the end. Granted, this is more complex than “Lisa Goes Gaga”, in that it takes on a social issue, but still. I think “Summer of 4’2” was an overall more inspired, unique take on the idea, with a somewhat more “involved” plot involving sibling rivalries and the dynamic of geekery. Here, it’s a bit… simpler. Lisa is ostracized for being uncool, but is right all along because the cool kids don’t know the first thing about the “adult” things they’re supposed to do.

But, because I l want to end the discussion of the plot on a positive note this time, I will say that Alex Whitney is actually a fresh twist on the old “uptown girl” cliche – she’s sweet, not actively harmful, and seems to be more unaware of the realities of a new demographic than anything else. She’s sympathetic, and Lisa Kurdow does a fantastic job playing her. (I’ve never really watched Friends, but now I’m tempted to watch a bit on Netflix.)

Bizarrely enough, the title of the episode comes from the B-plot. A harbringer of the “Homer Gets A Job” cliche, Homer (and Bart, because writing) try and make money off of recycling grease. Minor in the grand scheme of things, it’s still quite a bit lackluster. It’s full of the typical “Homer Gets A Job” cliches – Homer acts like a jackass or an idiot, does something that is obviously not going to make him money, and gets hurt while doing so. “Lisa’s Rival”, again, handled this in a better light,

What bugged me is the idea that this behavior was normal. Even in episodes like “Deep Space Homer”, Homer’s trip into space was treated realistically, with other characters acting like real people despite the zaniness of the situation. Here, Homer is all but egged on by the entire universe. Back in my review of “Lost Our Lisa”, I mentioned that Homer’s rant at the end showcased that the character was being transformed into something of a Mary Sue – one that the writers would use as a vehicle for their fantasies. It isn’t too bad here – he doesn’t come out the victor, is relegated to the B-plot, and doesn’t meet a celebrity.

Still, to see Marge suggest somethings for his “zany scheme” is a tiny bit out of character, and shows the universe start to bend to his will. In the show’s defense, Marge’s suggestion of an “emu farm” indicates something that is relatively tame. I think – I don’t know much about Emu farming. Oh, I also forgot to mention Homer gets hurt – he’s beaned with a shovel, punched, strangled with a hose, and having an eyeball pop out. That last part, I did not make up. That’s something I’d expect out of a show made by Seth MacFarlane. He survives all of this with nary a scratch.

Again, because I want to end on a positive note this time, I will say that the episode had quite a few great jokes:

  • “North Kilt-town”
  • Skinner recognising right off the bat that Lisa’s probably the only person raising her hand – a tad bit silly, but whatever.
  • Homer takes note of the large amounts of grease on the fast food worker’s forehead. “My god, you’re greasy!”
  • Homer forgot to attach the barrels to the car before his trip to the school.
  • Even Lisa’s paramecium insult her by pairing up.
  • “Acne Grease and Shovel”
Despite this, the episode is relatively lacklustre, and not one I would be too quick to watch again.
Tidbits:
  • In an age where mobile phones are commonplace, it’s worth noting that having a cell phone was seen as something of a “white collar” thing during the 90s – as in, generally speaking, people who primarily made decent money in the finance sector had cell phones. This stands in something of a contrast to today, where most people have cell phones. Thus, the allure of Alex having a cell phone is much stronger if viewed from a “1998” perspective.
  • There’s something a tad bit confusing about Groundskeeper Willie using the school’s kitchen as a sort of shower. I know he lives on school grounds, but at first, it seems like he was just there because the plot needed a conclusion. However, given that he’s the only janitor at the school, he might be doing some overnight cleaning work (or at least, on the clock for it).
  • This was the last episode directed by Dominic Polcino. Not the greatest way to leave.
  • This episode actually aired as a special episode. Y’see, in America, broadcast TV shows are normally contained from September to May, when the ratings system is most active. The reason, according to Wikipedia, was to get a good lead in for the pilots of That 70s Show and a Holding the Baby. The former became something of a cultural icon – ironically enough, it launched the career of Mila Kunis, who became the second voice of Meg in oft-accused Simpsons ripoff Family Guy. Holding the Baby’s success can be measured in that it’s Wikipedia Page barely has information on the show, and according to it, the show didn’t live to see whether President Clinton would be acquitted or not. (Oh, and it was based off of a somewhat – at least – obscure Britcom.)
Zaniness Factor: 2, mainly from the cartoonish fight between Homer and Willie.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3. Zany job, virtual invincibility to pain, and pulling Bart out of school to work a blue collar job? Yeah.
Favorite Scene: Have to go for Lisa trying to force Milhouse to go with her to the dance as a date… before realizing what she’s become. Even if the rest of the art in the episode is somewhat dry, the reflection in the glasses is a good, if slightly cliche, film/animation direction technique.
Least Favorite Scene: The entire third act has several scenes, but it’s a dead heat between Lisa’s somewhat uncharacteristic end monologue, and Homer and Groundskeeper Willie’s overtly cartoonish fight.
Score: 6.5.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 23: "King of the Hill"

Airdate: May 3rd, 1998

Synopsis: After a disastrous outing to a church picnic, Bart realizes that Homer is pathetically out of shape. Homer, disappointed in himself for failing his son, decides to take up an exercise regiment, complete with trips to the “gyme” and eating Powersauce bars. Impressively, with the help of Rainier Wolfcastle, he manages to build up sizable muscles within two months, albeit developing a bit of ego along the way. One particular trip to the “gyme” has Homer and Bart meet up with representatives from Powersauce, and Bart convinces Homer to take up on an offer to climb the super-tall Murderhorn. The executives sponsor the trip along the way, turning it into an ad campaign… even having sherpas help Homer.

Review (SPOILERS): Watching these past few episodes has been like a pendulum. We had “Trillions” show the assassination of satire, “Girly Edition” show the brilliant satire formed over the previous eight seasons, “Trash of the Titans” show Homer get a job and act like an asshat all the way, and this episode, actually extending pathos to Homer. Is this the last we’ll see of a sympathetic Homer? Who knows? (Hint: probably.)

This episode chooses to look at one of Homer’s defining physical features- his rotundness, and how it contrasts to society’s expectations of machismo. It’s a bit strange that, given the relative zaniness of these past few episodes (Cuba? Really?), this episode actually has a somewhat realistic portrayal of Homer’s health and what happens when he exercises- even though he gets muscles in two months, he’s still not presented as fit. The way this episode portrays his strives to get healthier actually makes you feel for Homer through the entire episode.

Unlike future episodes, which will show Homer become macho thanks to the power of a dietician, this episode shows the fraudulence of certain “schemes” to healthy living- that is, food in “health bar” form. This actually shows a realistic viewpoint of that scheme- eating the bars seems to motivate Homer. When the rug is pulled out from under Homer (mmm… Chinese newspapers), he rejects the Powersauce Executives fears that he won’t make it to the summit… only to embrace it after almost dying.

He only truly abandons his quest after he learns something about his father. Why? Eh, it’s a plot arc introduced in the third act. I would’ve placed something a bit earlier, but it fit with the pacing of the episode. Still, he realizes that there can be no greater shame than what his father did, and that whatever he does is still more dignified. I won’t spoil it, but it is a pretty dark moment.

While Homer does dip in a little bit of “Jerkass” territory here, it’s relatively minor and somewhat excusable- with the pathos built up, it’s understandable why his ego inflated a bit after gaining some muscle. Likewise, the resolution of the plot is a bit… strange. Still, somewhat alleviated by Homer’s pathos.

Getting back to the macho part, this episode does take some shots at society’s expectations of macho-ness via Wolfcastle. The muscles. the feats of strength. Yet, he won’t do the impossible in real life- climb the Murderhorn. Granted, his reasoning is justified, but still. The Gravity Falls episode “Dipper Vs. Manliness” did a similar episode 15 years later- one that criticized masculine stereotypes. Being that “Manliness” happens to be one of my least favorite Gravity Falls episodes, I find it strange how an episode from the waning years of The Simpsons can best a similar episode of a show which might be my all-time favorite.

Not much to say here, really. A good episode, albeit relatively unmemorable (except for “gyme”), probably the last before Scully’s brand of Simpsons fully takes over.

Tidbits

  • The mockery of advertising is brilliant. The Powersauce executives are annoyingly hysterical- they’re more callous about death and danger than Mr. and Mrs. Valentino! 
  • This just in: Powersauce is amazing!
  • Note to self: always use “gyme”.
  • Apologies for being out these past couple of weeks. Writers block, plus new blog, plus a new semester, does not motivation make.
  • One last note: this will likely be the last blog post under the current URL. At the latest, as of the posting of my review of the next Gravity Falls episode, “Northwest Mansion Noir”, the URL will change to starbug1729.blogspot.com. I would preemptively bookmark it, if I were you.
Favorite Scene: Every scene with Abe and McAllester is brilliantly done. Nothing says character development like those scenes.

Least Favorite Scene: Eh… can’t name a scene that stood out for it’s weaknesses. All of them were necessary to the plot.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 1.5. Homer gets a bit more aloof and callous when he gets fit, but it’s immediately balanced out by the pathos in the episode.

Zaniness Factor: 2… mainly for the last three minutes.

Score: 7.

Update- 2/2/15: Not related to The Simpsons, but I’ve just learned/realized that Geraldine McEwan, who played Cassandra in Red Dwarf, died recently. In tribute of her, I post this quote from “Cassandra”:

Cassandra: All of the Canaries will be dead within 1 hour, except for Rimmer…

Rimmer: YES!

Cassandra: …who will be dead in 20 minutes.

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.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 15: "The Last Temptation of Krust"

Airdate: February 22, 1998

“I just read the Season 15 DVD Review! THEY WERE RIGHT!”

Synopsis: At a comedy festival organized by Jay Leno, Bart convinces Krusty the Clown to do some of his standup. However, in contrast to the rest of the material, Krusty’s material is, well, outdated at best. Embarrassed, he goes into an emotional spiral, culminating in him passing out on Flanders’s lawn. While announcing his retirement from comedy, his rant on modern life manages to make the press laugh, and Krusty is back in business.

Review: There’s a nagging feeling I have about the episode… no matter how much I want to like it, it still seems… off.

I’ve taken Krusty to be a deconstruction of the typical kids show presenter: he was washed up, his material is trapped in the 50s, he’s callous off the stage, and only in the business for the paycheque. (Insert Zombie Simpsons joke here.) So why are we explicitly taking an episode out to deconstruct Krusty? It seems a bit expository, like “Hey, this is Krusty’s character!” Besides, as some pointed out, “Krusty Gets Kancelled” already deconstructed Krusty’s character, by having new, more organized competition blow Krusty out of the water. That episode, though, was one of the best in the history of the show. This episode… isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t live up to the heights of “Kancelled”. After all, stand-up comedians doing their schlock may provide the chuckles, but gags like Worker and Parasite and “Old Grey Mare” are timeless.

The art of selling out as mocked here is also pretty ironic. The Simpsons used to relentlessly mock the celebrities that guest stared, or at best, portrayed them as suffering from human flaws. This episode gives Jay Leno a relatively light treatment, one that would be repeated for almost every other guest star since. Oh, and he goes into the house of Our Favorite Family, and helps Krusty. No questions. Remember when it was a town-wide event to see Michael Jackson come to town?

Now, some may be thinking: didn’t the Simpson kids talk with celebrities in “Kancelled” to try and salvage Krusty’s career? However, not only did every one of those celebrities had some form of development, or at least some awesome lines, but they actually tracked every celebrity down, interacted with them like most unfamiliar with celebrities would, and still made the episode a biting satire on its target (TV competition and comebacks). Here, Leno comes to the house just because Bart called in a favor, despite barely knowing him.

This episode is the second one to feature Gil Gunderson, a character whose main joke is that he is a complete and utter failure at life. Outside of the “sock” joke, I really didn’t find the scene with him funny… and it was at the beginning of the episode. Kinda drags the first act down a bit. Of course, it got better by the second half, with Krusty getting wasted and on Flanders’s front lawn and his failed comeback with his same old shtick. The third act was pretty decent, but still, there’s a nagging feeling that they were a bit soft on the modern stand-up circuit, that they were almost embracing them. Sure, “out there” stand up might be alright, but why not try and take them out on the negatives rather than the positives? Krusty quickly sells back out, however, thus cementing a theme that, no matter what, some people are just in it for the monay. Hey, status quo is god!

I did like this episode taking a bit out of the utter devotion that some fans have: they’ll buy anything with a face on it, even if it doesn’t work. However, it sort of backfires wherealizeealise that the rampant sale of merchandise keeps the show on the air, even when it’s well past it’s prime. (Ad revenues are down, though. There is a shot!) Hypocrisy, much? Eh, I don’t think even Scully had any idea that the show would be alive enough to see the 2010s.

There were some decent gags that buoy the episode… strangely, few of them are in the stand-up routine:

  • Kent Brockman filling in for Krusty. Boy, what a cheap station KBBL is.
  • Marge watching Spanish telenovelas, and Lisa translating them.
  • Krusty using one of his licensed swabs… which burns on contact.
  • “IMPEACH CHURCHILL!”
  • “Don’t you hate pants?”
  • “Here’s $42. It’s everything I have. Run home and bury it in the yard!”
  • Ah, the Canyonero ending. All of it. I would’ve put the last part at the beginning of the episode, in lieu of the Gil scene, though.
Sadly, this episode, outside of those gags, largely felt like it needed something else. It just didn’t feel full, or memorable.
Tidbits:
  • The network censors actually had a problem with Krursty’s act. The writers had to put it in context to get it through.
  • There was actually a scene planned that had Bart try and meet up Leno. That actually would’ve made some lick of sense. No, they just go to Leno just being at the Simpson house.
  • Strangely enough, there was a later episode (as in, Season 23) that actually had a decent idea reminiscent of this episode. In “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution”, Krusty, with his agent/lover Annie Dubinsky (Joan Rivers) decide to relaunch his show on cable to target an audience that wants to love things they enjoyed as children. Again, I liked the idea: Krusty deciding to relaunch his show to target a new audience, and mocking the “flashback” cycle that 30-somethings tend to have nowadays. Again, though, they wasted the potential, and made it more about Krusty and his relationship with his agent. End result? This is a better episode.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 He burns all of his money. How? He throws matches on the table. Nice one, idiot.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 Leno showing up to 742 Evergreen Terrace after barely meeting Bart is certainly a bit… off.
Favorite Scene: CANYONERO!!!!! Canyonero!
Least Favorite Scene: I just couldn’t really laugh at the shoe shop scene. Utter canyon of joke-ness. (And I don’t care if I’m making up words at this point.)
Score: 6.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 14: "Das Bus"

Airdate: February 15, 1998

Synopsis: While on the way to a trip to the Model UN conference in Capital City, the kids from Springfield Elementary wind up in a jam after a grapefruit-related brake failure drives the bus off of a bridge. With Otto floating away (“ZEPPELIN RULES!”), the kids wind up trapped on a deserted island. A combination of the island’s lack of resources and their lack of survival skills scuttles their attempts at civilization, and the kids have to live off of the snacks from the bus. All the while, the kids become suspicious of one another.

Meanwhile, Homer, inspired by Flanders’s internet enterprise, decides to start his own internet business… despite knowing nothing about the internet. Thus, we take a look at the rise and fall of Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net.

Review: I had to read Lord of the Flies during High School. (Thank you, New York State.) For those that haven’t read the book in a long time, the book focused on a bunch of British students getting trapped on an island after their plane goes down. Their connections to civilization falter, and the kids become more and more savage.

I have to say, watching this episode after thinking about the book, I was a tad bit underwhelmed.

“Das Bus” seems like it was trying to be more of a send-up to Flies, which is alright, except, as others have pointed out, it tends to play to the beats of the novel a bit too closely. The Simpsons is best when it adds twists to the source material. Outside of the ending (which I’ll discuss below), the episode tended to match word-for-word the novel. Kids try to form own civilization after getting trapped on island, yet wind up becoming more and more savage and brutal.

This episode does take quite the stab at the United Nations, as, at the meeting, we see the kids bicker over the relationship between each other, setting the tone for what they would do without supervision from adults. Once they get stranded on the island, they begin looking for their self-interests. Fighting Milhouse for the “food” is a collaborative effort, but in the end, the kids want their own instant gratification. Meanwhile, Millhouse, one of the remaining “civilized” students, winds up acting like a jerkass to Lisa and Bart, asking them to carry him to safety, and repaying them by abandoning the two after crossing the cliff. Is it symbolic of international relations within the UN, and providing a message about the flaws of the organization? Or am I looking too much into this episode? Given Scully’s legacy amongst the general public, I lean somewhat to the latter.

Either way, I think if the episode focused more on UN satire and less on ripping off Lord of the Flies, this might have been more enjoyable… a little bit.

The ending of the plot is actually pretty decent. While the reveal of “the monster” is a bit too in step, it actually does lead to a very interesting twist – one that plays off of the kid’s instant gratification and one that is a direct stab at Lisa’s vegetarianism. I also think the ending ending was a bit of a stab at the ending of Lord of the Flies. Normally, I hold Simpsons episodes that have haphazard-esque endings in a low light. Yet, here, I kind of liked it, given the source material.

Character in the A-plot seemed a bit uneven, yet I can somewhat pass it off, given the stressful situation they’re in. Some of Lisa’s dialogue might seem off given her normally intelligent nature, but it also helps reinforce that she’s still a second grader. Bart’s dialogue also seemed to show that there are flashes of brilliance in him, yet it is also balanced by his naiveté.

Plot “B” mocks the dot-com bubble just around the time it was, well, bubbling. Homer sets up a business with no knowledge of the industry, acts like an idiot, is somehow able to buy advertising (albeit on, apparently, Voyager fansites), and, when it comes time to sell, he gets trashed… rather literally, in fact. (“I didn’t get rich by writing a lot of cheques!”). Sure, it’s a prototype of the “Homer gets a new job and acts like a jackass” plot that would become the center of season 10. However, I must admit, it was pretty damn funny. By far my favorite piece of dialogue would have to be between Comic Book Guy and Homer, as CBG wants faster internet.

Comic Book Guy: “I’m interested in upgrading my 28.8 kilobaud internet connection to a 1.5 megabit fiber optic T1 line. Will you be able to provide an IP router that’s compatible with my Token Ring Ethernet LAN connection?”

Homer: [Stares for a few seconds] “Can I have some money now?”

Overall, while a bit of a disappointment compared to what I was expecting, it was still a pretty decent episode. Maybe my expectations were too high. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Tidbits:

  • Some fans on the internet have complained that Bill Gates, who briefly appeared at Homer’s business, voiced himself, claiming that celebrity guest voices helped kill the show. Hank Azaria actually voiced Gates.
  • This episode was written by David S Cohen. It would be his third-to-last script under the title: after the Writers Guild unionized, he was forced to drop the S from his title, and instead put an X for his future scripts, including the pilot to Futurama, which I think is surprisingly underrated in the science-fiction world.
  • The resolution to Otto’s C-plot is pretty damn funny… it involves Chinese fishermen and slave labor. “I think I’m gonna like it on this boat!”
  • Worth noting that the Model UN was also given a brief shoutout in “Lisa the Drama Queen”, where the meeting goes awry due to the lack of certain representatives… in that case, Lisa. Strangely enough, that episode was also a parody of another piece of media- there, it was the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. Much like this episode, it’s less of a parody and more of a beat-by-beat retelling. It was a pretty weak episode, especially by the standards of the classics.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 Between stealing Marge’s ideas without giving her credit, ignoring her, and telling her to get out when Gates arrives to make himself look good – it’s a bit annoying.

Zaniness Factor: 2.5. An episode of this caliber was always going to be “out there”. It does pull back on the slapstick, however.

Favorite Scene: LOVED CBG’s attempts to boost his internet speed… via Homer. Pretty much sums up Telecom companies.

Least Favorite Scene: Milhouse abandoning Bart and Lisa after swinging over the ditch rubbed me the wrong way. Milhouse is many things, but a jerkass he is not.

Score: 7.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 13: "The Joy of Sect"

Airdate: February 8th, 1998

“Special effects by Industrial Lights and Morons” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Space Mutiny”)

Synopsis: Whilst wasting time at the Airport, Homer and Bart meet two members of the “movementarians”, Glen and Jane. They convince Homer, amongst others, to visit a film, where they promise to use praise to “the Leader” to get “access to a starship to ‘Blisstonia'”. Despite initial difficulties (Homer being too thick, for one), their message manages to get into Homer, and he, alongside most of the rest of Springfield, are sucked into the cult. Said cult forces its members to move to a farm to harvest Lima Beans. The Leader is said to be living in a forbidden barn, building his ship, making brief appearances to wave to the cult members. The cult’s popularity manages to take over Springfield, right down to its media. Only Marge is able to resist the cult, and has to flee the compound to find a way to deprogram the family.

Review: FINALLY! After, what, three weak episodes, we finally get an episode that’s… good.

Overhyped, though? Maybe a little.

This episode’s main strength is in its scathing critique of religious cults.  Oh, boy, is it scathing. Take your typical cult tropes and exaggerate them to the nth degree. That’s the Movementarians. Let’s see, all they do is guilt trip people into being brainwashed, take over entire media outlets, poison those into submission, take their member’s money and property, and force them into hard labor… and it’s all just empty. They spend lavishly on themselves, descend the followers into petty fights, enjoy the tax-exempt status of the government to partake in the aforementioned self-serving spending, and pander to the follower’s weaknesses/battle against their strengths.

This episode was also very topical, somewhat rare for a post-classic Simpsons episode. You see, this episode has its basis in the Heaven’s Gate cult, which, a year earlier, committed suicide in an attempt to ride Comet Hale-Bopp. Also gaining media attention around this time (I suppose: I don’t have many memories of the 90s) was Scientology (which even had one of its founders write a book that was adapted into a hysterically awful movie), as well as the Unification Church.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Simpsons episode without its characters. For the most part, this episode does well in this regard. In all honesty, this episode shows Marge at one of her high points. It’s not really as high as, say, “Marge on the Lam”, but it’s pretty awesome. Through her, we see her have to take “deprogramming” maneuvers similar to those of brainwashing. It’s a tough call, but sometimes, you have to stoop low to achieve a goal that you know will be heroic in the end. Lovejoy and Flanders are perfect in their role as the Christian holdouts. That, and Ned actually has beer. Maybe I just have traces of ZS on the mind, but that’s a deep, more “average” side to Ned. Willie’s role as the “Id” of the deprogramming operation is perfect. I’ll go as far as to say that, as much as Homer did have some jerkass scenes in the beginning, most of it is excused, as his character is made more realistic by the end of the episode. The twist to deprogram him is awesome, and totally fits in with his character.

Complaints? Pacing was a bit off: the airport scene seemed to just be there for a bunch of sitcom jokes, yet the placement of the third act seemed to make it so that said third act dragged a bit. However, it’s an otherwise fantastically funny episode, with wicked satire and good characterization.

Enjoy it. These types of episodes will be rare as the years go on.

Tidbits:

  • This episode was technically produced by David Mirkin, the showrunner for Seasons 5 and 6. Much like Scully, Dave Mirkin’s twist on the show (especially in Season 5) took it into more outlandish and cartoony territory (“Deep Space Homer”, “Homer and Apu”). Mirkin also took on some social commentary. (“Sideshow Bob Roberts”, “Homer Badman”). However, Mirkin also used more character-based plots, rather than plots that caused the characters to conform to the plot. This episode feels like a Mirkin-era episode… except for art, which is somewhat more rigid.
  • I personally like the twist with the loaner bikes. Goes to remind us that not only are there still holdouts for the cult, but that Our Favorite Family isn’t exactly doing so well. Hear me, Zombie Simpsons? Characters living the high life is not really funny!
  • LOVE the scenes with the “Lawyer Department”, especially when they barge into KBBL-TV to look for Homer. “Idiots? That’s slander, sir, and we have it on tape.” “Alright; I’ll get out my chequebook!”
  • “We are watching FOX!” I love the “take that’s” at FOX.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. Most of Homer’s jerkassery is a little justified, but almost mowing down the Movementarians certainly crossed the line. This is also a literal Jerkass Homer Moment: while driving to the Movementarian Center, Homer screams “Outta my way, jerkass!” And thus, a name for the post-classic era Homer was born.

Zaniness Meter: 2. The zaniest moment: rover from The Prisoner appears in the barrier between the Movementarian Campground and the town… capturing Moleman. Mmm… I swear I remember that a later episode had a more direct parody on The Prisoner.

Favorite Scene: Everything (except the road rage) at the Movementarian Center.

Least Favorite Scene: At the airport, Homer is an idiot as to the “free film this weekend” presented by the Movementarians. This joke was done better in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”, with the VIP gag.

Score: 8