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Couch gag: The Simpsons are pawns in The Game of Life.

Director: Michael Polcino

Guest Voices:
John Oliver as Booth Wilkes John
Carl Kassell as himself
Peter Sagal as himself

Synopsis: Fearing Lisa will grow up without friends, Marge pays someone to befriend Lisa.

Discussion: The main point of the episode is lost between Homer’s behaviour at a party and wondering what happened to the charming new British neighbour.

The couch gag was a parody of The Game of Life, in which Homer and the Simpson family retrace their backstory as part of the game. I can only suppose this is intended for those unfortunate people who have accidentally tuned into this episode without ever having watched a prior Simpsons episode ever.

We begin with Bart watching Itchy and Scratchy on an ancient portable television. I admit, I laughed at ‘Catatouille’. I thought it was a real hark back to the golden days of the show-within-a-show and also because I love Disney, so any parody is going to be at lest mildly amusing. Skip to the adult party, where charming British host Booth Wilkes John (voiced by John Oliver) is hosting a murder mystery… until oaf Homer ruins the fun. Segue into Marge worrying about not having any friends, which obviously means Lisa is growing up without friends as well. Sure, Lisa’s friendships are short and fleeting, but she seems OK with this and even mentions in this ep that she’s better off without friends because it helps her focus.

In desperation, Marge pays someone to be Lisa’s friend. Because that’s what caring mothers on television do, with no chance of being discovered. The emotional heart of the ep is completely lost- I was hoping Lisa would go mental on her mother but all she did was feel guilty that she made her mother cry. Sure, seeing your mother cry is one of the worst feelings in the world, but still, Lisa going mental would be far better television.

In conclusion, this ep feels like it was patched together by 10 different people who couldn’t agree on what should be happening. One person runs out of ideas, so another is brought in until their 30 seconds of ideas is exhausted, then bring someone else in. Or else they had old scenes left over and decided to smoosh them together, kinda like smooshing ABBA songs into a musical. At least bring back Booth, who had so much potential!

Brick like me

Brick Like Me

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Synopsis: Homer dreams he’s stuck in a Lego world in order to keep his kids close to him forever.

Discussion: I love kids’ movies. I’m a huge Disney fan and, based on recommendations from everyone I know, I saw The Lego Movie. And hated it. Sure, it was well animated but it lacked the depth of story I’m used to in so many other films. It was like it was squarely aimed at brain damaged five year olds… or am I thinking of seasons 24 and 25 of The Simpsons?

In any case, I was so hoping this episode would be much more than just a gimmick, and it got halfway there. Homer, in Lego Springfield, starts hallucinating that he’s made of squishy meat and has flashbacks to playing toys with Lisa until he decides to leave the hard plasticy world and return to the one where he’s made of fleshy meat. I was willing to buy the story until Homer told Lisa he can’t stop her growing up. Seriously, he said that. Just because Lisa has been 8 for the past thirty years doesn’t mean she won’t grow up, apparently.

The mix of animation used, at first, seemed like they ran out of money and had to insert their regular animation into it, until it becomes clear that this is part of the story. Most characters from the show are represented in Lego, which is a welcome touch because everyone likes to see their favourite characters in a different light sometimes.

As for the story, I was underwhelmed. While I can appreciate the essence of what Homer was trying to do, it really only seemed like an excuse to throw around as many Lego sets and puns as possible. Homer, by self admission, doesn’t enjoy playing imaginary tea parties with Lisa so to have an episode set around building a mini Lego Springfield in order to spend more time with her… well, it’s been done before and much better. Remember Daddy-Daughter Days when Homer was betting on Lisa’s sports picks?And what about Bart? Surely he and Homer could have some real fun bonding over weirdo Lego sets.

Only around 4.5 million Americans watched this episode, proving that the average viewer cannot be sucked into watching a gimmick of a once-favourite television show. It’s a shame, really, but hey, you can’t blame the writers for trying any old gimmick.

what to expect

What To Expect When Bart’s Expecting

Billboard: Apu: Total Recall, all items tainted

You can’t play April Fool’s Day jokes on April 27th

Couch gag: The family take a trip through Homer’s body. Directed by Michael Socha.

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Guest Voices:
Tavi Gevinson as Jenny
Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony

Synopsis: Disliking his art teacher, Bart performs a voodoo spell on her and she announces she’s pregnant. Soon, other women pay Bart for his services and they become pregnant too. Fat Tony then hires Bart to facilitate in getting his prized filly pregnant.

Discussion: This ep starts well enough: Moe and the other bar owners decide to spruce things up by staging a superhero drinking marathon. It’s just the kind of silliness that the show personifies. Unfortunately, then we descend into silliness that the show has become: Bart performing voodoo and the female residents become pregnant.

Even the welcome appearance of Fat Tony couldn’t save this episode. The utterly ridiculous horse plot was so pathetic it barely rates a mention, let alone half the episode. Not even that- the opening sequence was another filler, clocking in at over 2 minutes, and at the very end we’re “treated” to an ad featuring Sudsley for a new Duff product.

Just yesterday, I was musing to myself that the show was missing some musical numbers. I spoke too soon; this ep has a Les Miserables number which feels so forced and pathetic that it really has no place other than more filler.

Will someone PLEASE put this show out of its misery?

days of future future

Days of Future Future

Couch gag: The living room and couch are covered with bubble wrap and the family dance about to pop them before sitting down.

Director: Bob Anderson

Guest Voice:
Amy Poehler as Jenda

Synopsis: A sequel to ‘Holidays of Future Passed‘. Bart tries to get back with Jenda, Lisa’s marriage to Milhouse is strengthened by him becoming a zombie and Homer is forced to be a computer simulation for the rest of his life.

Discussion: We start out with Homer dying and being replaced by about 167 clones, all of whom meet tragic ends. Homer spends the rest of the episode living in a computer and/or a robot body. Yep.

Meanwhile, Lisa is married to Milhouse, who becomes far more interesting as a zombie. Yep. It’s almost self-referential to the show becoming “Zombie Simpsons“, a pale imitation of its glory years.

The most interesting part of this episode, and that’s not saying much, is Bart’s attempted reconciliation with his ex, Jenda, who is now dating an alien, from Aliens, named Jerry. Jenda has only been seen three times (if I remember correctly), which sorta negates Bart’s crush on Mary Spruckler. I’d prefer it if he married Sherri or Terri… but anyhoo.

There is nothing about this episode that makes sense, unlike ‘Holidays of Future Passed’ which was sweet and charming. The joke about Cretaceous Park (now named correctly) is kinda funny, and my boyfriend laughed at Ralph Wiggum’s stint as a cop, “Look at me! I’m fighting crime!” as he’s being swung around by Milhouse to hit the bullies.

Deservedly, it holds the record for the second-fewest viewers in the history of the show. A couple of days ago, I was writing about how interesting Bart and Lisa could be if they were allowed to grow up a bit. I guess I was wrong.

Lucas

Luca$

Billboard: Krusty: now doing funerals

Couch gag: The entire opening sequence is a parody of Minecraft

Director: Chris Clements

Guest Voice:
Zach Galiafinakis as Lucas Bortner

Synopsis: Lisa meets a competitive overeater named Lucas. After helping Snake, Bart becomes the recipient of many stolen items.

Discussion: I… what? That was painful. I’ve read some really cutting reviews about this episode so I was actually looking forward to seeing just how bad it was, and I’m not disappointed. Well, I am, generally speaking, but it lived up to those terrible reviews.

We start with Zach I’m-not-attempting-to-spell-his-last-name doing a very poor job of being hilarious. Lisa comes across the world’s worst competitive eater, who has a weak gag reflex (among many other faults). This leads to a tragic mish-mash of events, none of which are actually resolved. One could argue that Lucas is merely the catalyst for Homer and Marge mending their relationship (yet again) but that wouldn’t explain why the episode is named after him. In fact, why is the ep named after him when he barely appears beyond the halfway point altogether?

it would be great to see Homer take on the challenge of keeping up with Lucas’ eating, or even showing him how it’s done. Heck, Marge is already disappointed enough so let’s push the envelope a little bit further to see just how far we can take this. Marge’s whole thing about not wanting Lisa to marry someone like Homer is well, stupid. She loves Homer and we’re never going to think otherwise, no matter what Patty and Selma say.

In the subplot, Bart hides Snake in his treehouse (that’s not a euphemism) and in gratitude, Snake brings him stolen items. It’s one goodie too much when Snake steals Milhouse’s tablet (complete with lame apps like Insta-Grandma). It’s a fumbled mess but the one laugh I did get from the episode was Lou putting together the electric chair from Ikillya.

In terms of incoherency, this ep is right up there. Instead of nicely finishing off both plots, the A plot is somehow twisted to become about Homer and Marge, not Lisa and Lucas, and the B plot finishes with Snake escaping, promising suicide by cops (i.e. allowing them to shoot him) if he’s arrested again. Really. This is the best the writers can come up with? Sad.

Live like a ref

You Don’t Have to Live Like a Referee

Couch gag: The Simpsons are running with the bulls, only the bulls are couches with horns.

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest Voice:
Andrés Cantor as himself

Synopsis: After Lisa gives a speech at school about Homer being her hero, Homer is chosen to be a referee at the soccer World Cup in Brazil.

Discussion: Two things struck me about this episode: The plot makes no sense whatsoever and one of the reasons that the show is so crap now is lack of evolution of the characters.

It’s not only the Simpson family, but every character in the show is exactly the same as they were 25 seasons ago when the show premiered, albeit a number of different jobs and circumstances which get reset to The Norm at the end of each ep. Most sitcoms these days have story arcs which span several episodes over a season, and a viewer can watch any ep and place it within a story frame (but if you’re watching Friends, you can also place any episode within Matthew Perry’s battle with drugs).

By keeping the Simpsons exactly the same, there’s no room for evolution. People grow and change and these characters aren’t allowed to do anything but remain their same old selves. There are exceptions, of course; Lisa has turned vegetarian and Buddhist over the course of the show and Apu married and fathered eight children. Unfortunately neither of these characters further explore these evolutions past a couple of episodes. It’s not just about keeping the show fresh, it’s about allowing characters to fully explore who they are and what they’re capable of. As an eight year old, there’s only so many things Lisa can do. Wouldn’t a teenage Bart be far more interesting? We get glimpses of life in the Simpsons future, but not enough to sustain any interest.

Anyhoo, I digress. In this ep, we’re taken back to Brazil for the first time since the disastrous season 13 episode ‘Blame it on Lisa‘, where the family travel to Brazil to find Lisa’s missing sponsor child. That ep was so controversial, there was a lawsuit involved. This time is completely different. Brazil is shown as a beautiful, sports-driven country all ready for the World Cup of soccer. The bribery thing is a bit much, as is Homer’s reason for declining them: he wants to remain Lisa’s hero. It’s weak at best, he’s never shied away from being an arse before even though both Lisa and Bart have mentioned him as being a hero.

The ep is also eerily accurate; it was aired in March of 2014, four months before the World Cup Final in which Germany took on Argentina and won. In the ep, it’s Germany vs Brazil (after all, Brazil seems a reasonable chance to be in the final) and Germany wins after Homer refuses to take a bribe to “fix” the game.

What the ep lacks in plot, it tries to make up for in heart but there’s really very little evidence that Lisa is proud, or in fact has even noticed, that Homer is refusing to take bribes. Just go back to being a dead beat dad, Homer, that’s what you’re good at.

the war of art

The War of Art

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest Voice:
Max von Sydow as Klaus Ziegler

Synopsis: Marge buys a painting from the Van Houtens, which turns out to be quite valuable, and divides the town.

Discussion: You know what would liven up this episode? A couple of songs about why Marge should and shouldn’t pay the Van Houtens. Like the “war” between the do-gooders and the rock n roll people from that Tom Cruise movie no one watched, Rock of Ages.

In any case, we open the ep with five minutes of Lisa trying to pick out a guinea pig, because she’s never had any pets before. Now, I can only assume this is supposed to be an ironic statement, because she’s had almost as many pets as Homer has had jobs. The guinea pig does what pig-things do, and chews through everything, including Marge’s favourite picture of a boat. Way back when, something else happened to that boat painting and Marge simply opened the cupboard to reveal a stack of boat paintings. I was hoping they’d throw back to that episode, but no, Marge and Homer go out to buy a new picture. Turns out to be valuable (then not valuable), which brings up a moral dilemma: do the Simpsons share the profits with the Van Houtens or not?

This has the potential to be interesting, but it actually turns into a sequence of arguments that don’t work. First, we have a bribery attempt to keep Milhouse quiet, while Milhouse argues it won’t work. Hands up who thought that was going to work. Then we have an argument between the Simpsons and Van Houtens when Luann and Kirk find out. Then another argument between Luann and Kirk when some random chick rocks up claiming ownership of the painting. Seriously?

The only interesting plot point in the entire episode is Klaus reveals he’s the real painter, thereby rendering the painting worthless. But since he’s already fooled the art elite, I reckon Homer should have kept the secret, sold the painting for squillions and donated the money to some art gallery with Lisa’s approval; after all, she was the one who was there when the fraud revealed himself.

So, it’s yet another case of OK premise, poor execution. At least it explains why there was a sudden appearance of a guinea pig in my The Simpsons: Tapped Out game…

PS, if you are considering a pet for a small child, guinea pigs are awesome. They are a bit noisy, and they will chew through everything in your home so keep them outdoors.

Three octogenoceruses?

Winter of his content

The Winter of His Content

Billboard: Rabbi Krustofsky: This Easter, give up Jesus for Lent, Temple Beth, Springfield.

My dad’s already drunk for St Patrick’s

Couch gag: Homer is a game of Operation, where Lisa is brain and Bart is pain in the butt (among other characters). Bart is removed and pulls the stylus to zap Homer.

Director: Chuck Sheetz

Synopsis: When Grampa and his cronies come to live at the Simpson house, Homer decides that the lifestyle of being old suits him. Bart is accepted by the bullies and together they attend the Bully Summit.

Discussion: This episode pretty much embodies all that is wrong with later-season Simpsons. There’s very little plot, sequences are held together in episodic fashion and rarely carry through to the next scene. There’s a distinct lack of jokes (although there were a couple of good lines here) and, well, nothing happens.

Grampa has been forced to live with the Simpson family, oh, about a million times before. This time he’s brought some friends because Marge couldn’t bear to leave them behind with no family. Homer has embraced the invalid life before, with hilarious results, but this time it’s flatter than possum roadkill. There isn’t a laugh to be seen anywhere here. No wheelchair racing, no accidental drug taking, no reminiscing about the war…

Meanwhile, Bart and Nelson bond over underwear (as one does) and Bart is accepted into the Springfield Elementary Bullies. Sure, whatever. The Bully Summit starts as a good idea but quickly goes nowhere as Bart is accused of injuring the Big Bully with his slingshot. There’s no point to the chasing scenes at all and the conclusion (if one can call it that) where Homer saves Bart from the rival bully gang… seriously, just shoot me now. It’s soooo lame!

There’s sooooooo much potential here for a really decent episode, full of jokes and sight gags and actual humour. This is just embarrassing for everyone involved.

The man who grew too much

The Man Who Grew Too Much

Couch gag: The Simpsons are continents who drift away from each other on a planet that is hit by an asteroid to reveal a rocky planet shaped like Moe.

Director: Matthew Schofield

Guest Voice:
Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob

Synopsis: Lisa teams up with Sideshow Bob to make GMO food while Marge teaches teenagers to be abstinent.

Discussion: Vale Marcia Wallace, whose character Edna is last seen is this episode. It’s a really lovely farewell; she and Ned are dancing in his imagination, then we see he’s wearing a black arm band. He says, “I’m really gonna miss that laugh” and Nelson appears at the window saying, “Yeah, I miss her too.” I wish such a farewell could have been given to Phil Hartman.

Other than that lovely tribute at the end, this episode sucked. I was all ready to hop on my soapbox about how GMO foods aren’t bad, but Lisa kindly did that for me with a poke at Monsanto (who are a little bit evil, but not for GMOs). She teams up with Doctor Sideshow Bob to create even more GMO food and then nothing happens until Bob kinda suicides at the end but he has GM’d himself to have gills… What?

Then there’s Marge at the church teaching Jimbo, Dolph, Kearney and Shauna to be abstinent. What are these kids doing in church anyway? But since they’re really the only teens in the show, I suppose they had to be there. And we’re pretty sure all of them have already had sex… Heck, Kearney has a kid! The whole plot doesn’t really make sense although the scene where they all agree to abstain from sex because the thought of Homer and Marge doing it grosses them out is probably the climax and the whole reason the subplot was included in the first place. However, Ned doesn’t seem aware that his sons just said they were going to marry each other…

There were two lowlights for me: The church sign saying, “A few days later” (WTF?) and Marge’s thing with the finger puppets, which only made Kearney want to take home to girl finger puppets and “do nothing” with them. Gross.

Diggs

Diggs

Billboard: St Patrick’s Day at Moe’s, Leprechauns drink free

Chalkboard gag: Bart draws a playoff bracket featuring Simpsons characters

Couch gag: The lights go off as the Simpsons sit on the couch. Marge gets up to change the fuse and the scene changes to a Triplets of Belleville-style scene. Marge looks for Maggie, which is squished between Homer’s butt cheeks while Bart tries to make a DIY goose pate. Directed by Sylvain Chomet.

Director: Michael Polcino

Guest Voice:
Daniel Radcliffe as Diggs

Synopsis: Ostracised at school for eating a dead frog, Bart makes a new friend who is into falconry… and is a little bit crazy.

Discussion: Here’s a suggestion: Get a bunch of monkeys, sit them at typewriters and whatever they write, have as the next Simpsons episode. Or better still, get a bunch of mentally ill people from the local hospital, make them eat Scrabble tiles, and whatever they shit out, turn that into a Simpsons script. Both of these would have to produce something more intelligible than this rubbish.

Cutting to the chase, Bart eats a dead frog for money and the other kids think it’s sufficiently gross enough not to hang out with him. Enter weirdo kid with a falcon.  This plot isn’t so bad, and in the hands of some decent writers, it could be a workable plot. However, one of the hallmarks of these jump-the-shark episodes is that the writers are treating the audience like they’re retarded five year olds who can’t think for themselves nor pay attention for more than three seconds. Newsflash: we aren’t goldfish! You don’t need to point things out to us via random characters telling us.

Anyhoo, weirdo kid is voiced by Daniel Radcliffe, who is undoubtedly talented but completely wasted in this role. Anyone who has seen Dan in a serious or gritty role (Harry Potter doesn’t count, try The Woman in Black) knows that he can pull off one heck of a performance as a tortured soul. Here, he’s just incomprehensible, not even batshit crazy. His ultimate plan to release all the other falcons in the contest is LAME. Where’s the genius behind such a tortured soul? Where’s the scrupulous planning? This contest was something literally thrown together in the last three minutes, leaving Bart to wonder about the mentally ill kid and not actually being a part of the episode.

There’s lots of other stuff that doesn’t make sense either. Krusty in a field without a nose, Homer spending a full minute telling the dog to sit, the falcon holidaying at the Simpson household while Diggs is at the hospital (doesn’t this kid have parents?) and well, pretty much the entire 20-odd minutes.

The ratings for this ep are the lowest in Simpsons history (thus far, as far as I know). There have been a lot of shit episodes, especially in seasons 24 & 25, and this one isn’t the worst I’ve seen… but still, if you can’t pull in an audience with Daniel Radcliffe, there’s something really wrong.

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