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Archive for August, 2013

We make a groin grabbingly good team

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Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?

I am not The Last Don

Couch gag: Matt Groening’s name is written on the carpet. Marge scrubs it off but an animated Matt re-writes it. 

Director: Nancy Kruse

Guest voice:
Ed Asner as the newspaper editor

Synopsis: Homer is employed as a food critic, but when the other critics deride him for never giving a bad review, Homer’s articles now spark outrage from local food markets who plot to kill him. 

Discussion: Homer as a food critic seems a logical choice; he does eat a lot of food. However, he does so indiscriminately, which is why all his reviews are glowing. In a satirical look at the power of the media, the residents of Springfield grow obese as a direct result of Homer’s reviews. The other critics point out that he needs to give a bad review, so he does. This turns business sour so the food operators decide to kill Homer with a poisoned eclair. Simples! 

This episode shows a lot of promise but I’m not sure it really delivers. I think the death plot is just too out-there for it to be plausible. Yes, this is a sitcom and yes, this is an animated series, but the show often deals with real life themes and situations so throwing in a death plot seems out of place and not really fitting with the overall show. Homer as a food critic is inspired, the death plot: not so much. 

Special mention has to be made of two points: 

1) The power of media to influence the masses. Currently in Australia, we have an election campaign where Rupert Murdoch’s media (he also owns the FOX Network, owner of The Simpsons) have been trying very hard to tarnish the reputation of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and get him voted out. Public opinion on this isn’t positive, however the power of the media and the fact that it has gone viral not only here in Australia but the world just shows that people are paying attention. Subconsciously, this may affect their vote. In this Simpsons episode, the residents of Springfield become obese because they’re eating at all the places Homer recommends. We can’t underestimate the power of the media, and this is satirised nicely. The Murdoch connection really stand out here. 

2) In the scene where Lisa is trying to stop Homer from eating the eclair, pay attention to the camera angles and the way urgency is depicted. It’s brilliant, especially for an animated series. 

At my house, we call them uh-ohs

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Brother’s Little Helper

Pork is not a verb

Couch gag: The family are blank and are painted by Asian artists using a paint-by-numbers scheme. 

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voice:
Mark McGwire as himself

Synopsis: Bart is diagnosed as ADD and is given medication to help him concentrate. However, the drug makes him paranoid.

Discussion: Bart’s behavioural issues are diagnosed as ADD and he’s given a drug to help him focus. As far as premises go, it’s a good ‘un. How can it go wrong? 

This ep’s downfall is involving the Major League Baseball. Maybe this is just cos I’m an Aussie and baseball isn’t a big deal here, or maybe it’s just a really stupid idea. Bring back the dog with the shifty eyes from last episode and leave the Baseball people out of it. It ruins a perfectly cromulent plot. 

Without getting into the pros and cons of medicating a child (I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV), the burning question I have about this ep is: Does Bart actually have ADD or is he just a brat? We’ve seen so many previous episodes where Bart has a conscience and he really does try his best when he wants to do something well. Maybe the problem is a short attention spa… SHINY THING! 

I’m even willing to buy into the paranoia subplot, however I don’t think this helps any parent who has a child on medication. Parents feel bad enough already without mental health problems thrown in. As we know, The Simpsons is a major cultural entity capable of both influencing and satirising popular culture. 

Wow, that was deep. 

Overall, I think the episode is hit-and-miss. Bart’s change in personality provides amusement but the paranoia and the baseball thing leaves me scratching my head. 

Turn that down under frown upside down

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Beyond Blunderdome

Fridays are not “pants optional”

Couch gag: The current family come face-to-face with themselves, Tracy Ullman era. All 10 scream and run away.

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest voices:
Mel Gibson as himself
Jack Burns as Edward Christian

Synopsis: At a test screening for Mel Gibson’s new movie, Homer leaves negative feedback and Mel agrees to let Homer reshoot the ending.

Discussion: Oh boy, where do I start?

Firstly, I agree with Homer that the the ending to Mr Smith Goes to Washington needs some work. Although I’m a big Jimmy Stewart fan, I didn’t love anything about the original 1939 film. In context, the film was very much a love letter to America in a time of depression and war. it also served to show the rest of the world how awesome America was, or as awesome as it wanted to seem anyway. Anyhoo, Mel Gibson’s fictional remake didn’t sit well with Homer, who thought a bit of violence would liven up the yak-fest.

Unfortunately, Hollywood and viewers disagreed and this film ruined Mel’s career (in the Simpsons universe). This episode is a clever satire of Hollywood processes such as testing audiences and a self-reflexive look at what it means to be a powerful celebrity in Hollywood. This was produced before Mel’s fall from grace: anti-semitic rants, domestic violence charges, drinking… In hindsight, Mel’s little speech about “it’s hell being Mel” is awkward now but at the time, Mel could do no wrong in Tinsel Town.

Other than that, it’s a decent episode and a solid start to Season 11.

Knife goes in, guts come out

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Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo

I’m so very tired

Couch gag: The family are sucked down the back of the couch and are shredded like paper.

Director: Jim Reardon

Guest voices:
George Takei as Wink
Gedde Watanabe as Waiter
Mako as Battling Seizure Robot
Keone Young as Sumo Wrestler

Synopsis: The Simpsons take a vacation to Tokyo but lose their money and have to appear on a Japanese game show to win tickets home.

Discussion: Let’s not mince words: this episode sucks. Whenever the Simpsons travel to another country, they end up offending practically everyone there. Apparently this ep has never been aired in Japan because it is considered disrespectful (the scene in question is when Homer throws the Emperor into a container of used sumo thongs). Those lucky Japanese aren’t missing anything.

Homer is particularly disrespectful of everything Japanese, except the toilet which recommends a restaurant called Americatown. The game show is a fairly good parody of real Japanese game shows (has anyone seen Takeshi’s Castle?) and the Simpsons are able to fly back to America, after a mild Godzilla attack.

This is one of the worst episodes in the series. There’s a fine line between satire and parody and this ep fails on both counts. It is offensive. There is some humour in the beginning of the show, showing dated technology such as those coloured Apple computers and floppy disks. But as the family land in Japan until the end of the show, it’s just rubbish.

Stop looking down my blouse, Copernicus

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They Saved Lisa’s Brain

No one wants to hear from my armpits

Couch gag: The couch is sunk by a passing iceberg

Director: Pete Michels

Guest voice:
Stephen Hawking as himself

Synopsis: Lisa is asked to join Mensa when she writes an open letter to Springfield about their buffoonery during a gross-out contest. Meanwhile, Homer uses a voucher for an erotic photography session. 

Discussion: Taken at face value, this episode isn’t fantastic. When viewed with a bigger understanding of current society and the emphasis placed on celebrating stupidity, this ep is brilliant. 

Embarrassed by the town’s gross-out contest and subsequent riot, Lisa pens an open letter encouraging residents to better themselves. The Springfield chapter of Mensa, comprising Comic Book Guy, Skinner, Dr Hibbert and Professor Frink, invite Lisa to join. After the mayor runs away, Mensa start ruling the town but disagree on several points. 

Having a high intellect comes at a cost, apparently. Not everyone shares the same vision for an Utopian society but some of the rules the literati make are plain silly. Which is, of course, the whole point. Enter Stephen Hawking, who is brilliant as himself. Hawking is a good sport, he will poke fun at himself (as he’s also proven by appearing on The Big Bang Theory) and continue his quest to popularise science. Wonder if they tried to get Marilyn vos Savant on the show too? 

Special mention must be made to Homer’s photo shoot. Some of the best shots in the entire series come from this shoot. Originally I was going to use the shot where Mensa members are dressed for the Renaissance, but I just couldn’t resist Homer being sexy. I use a lot of Homer-centred shots, just because he often has the best poses. 

Won’t someone please stop the farting

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Monty Can’t Buy Me Love

I have neither been there nor done that

Couch gag: The family start dancing and the lounge room is revealed to be a circus (we haven’t seen this one since season 6’s ‘Fear of Flying‘) 

Director: Mark Ervin

Synopsis: Monty brings over the Loch Ness Monster to make people love him. 

Discussion: This is actually a very good episode! If it seems like I’m surprised, it’s because I am: this is about the time where I start to get a bit jaded about the brilliance of the show. Yet here’s an ep which ticks all the right boxes, even if the ending does seem a bit out of place. 

Based on Richard Branson and Virgin Megastores, Arthur Fortune’s new Fortune Megastore has landed into Springfield and the residents just love this new kind of billionaire. He’s fun, down-to-Earth and gives away free cash just because he can. Monty, desperate for the same love and adoration, tries to emulate Fortune’s success and winds up stealing the Loch Ness Monster (affectionately called Nessie) in order to be loved. 

Everything works until the final part. One is able to see the Nessie stunt in good humour, part of the episode, but after that it’s a bit sketchy. Nessie ends up working in a casino. What? Nessie is a good-natured beast so there’s no point making her into a monster that Burns can manipulate to do his will, similar to “release the hounds”. Burns’ casino has been torn down so he can’t use her as the star attraction. So what do you do with the Loch Ness Monster once she’s won the hearts of Springfield’s residents? Clearly, I have no better answers than the writers, but the current ending of Nessie watching the pokies in a casino just doesn’t cut it. Other than that, it’s a fantastic episode. Shame. 

Children, children, future, future

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The Old Man and the C Student

Loose teeth do not nee my help

Couch gag: The Simpsons’ lounge room houses Springfield’s resident as a movie theatre. Homer plods his way to the couch behind everyone.

Director: Mark Kirkland

Synopsis: When Bart loses Springfield’s right to host the Olympic Games, he and the class are sentenced to “voluntary” work. Bart winds up at the old folk’s home and takes them on a trip to remember. 

Discussion: Although a favourite with the critics (and probably my sister too), I don’t love this episode. Springy and the elementary school kids singing are great. Bart rightfully loses the right to host the Games  when he presents some racist jokes to the panel. After that, it gets a bit weird. 

It may be an accurate reflection of how we treat old people: locking them away in homes with volunteers to keep them amused (and re-dubbing old movies to something nicer for the sensitive folk), but that doesn’t mean it’s funny. Bart taking the old folk out on a boat, which sinks and is bounced up by Homer’s flushed springs: what? It ties the two plots in nicely but apart from that, it’s all a bit too old and cliche. 

Lastly, we’ve already had an episode called ‘The Old Man and the...” which saw Mr Burns and Lisa form a partnership. All this combined, plus the old jokes that are the old folk, make this ep seem like well-trodden ground. 

You put the beer in the coconut and throw the can away

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Mom and Pop Art

A Trained ape could not teach gym

Couch gag: The Simpsons ride the couch a la Dr Strangelove

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest voices:
Isabella Rosselini as Astrid
Jasper Johns as himself

Synopsis: Homer’s attempts at building a BBQ pit go horribly wrong, but is seen as art by stereotypical pretentious artists. 

Discussion: I’m not arty at all, but I enjoy this episode. Homer’s failed BBQ pit becomes the centrepiece for his “outsider” art and he becomes an overnight success. 

It’s not fair that Marge is an artist yet her work has been long overlooked and Homer’s anger at the BBQ pit becomes an instant art success. But that’s life both in reality and in the Simpsons world- you don’t always get what you work so hard for. 

Isabella Rosellini is perfect as the hoity-toity Astrid, with famed artist jasper Johns appearing as himself. The beauty of working in animation means the guest stars don’t even need to be in the same country to record their lines. Wikipedia says Jasper recorded his lines over the phone. 

Again, this is a fresh look at a theme in the show: Homer being celebrated for doing stupid stuff but in a way that feels new and exciting. Overall, it’s a great episode and shows the superiority of season 10 over the disappointing and stale season 9. 

Those half pint slaves are exodusing

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Simpsons Bible Stories

I can not absolve sins

couch gag: The floor is littered with banana skins, which the family slip on and land on the couch

Director: Nancy Kruse

Synopsis: During a hot morning at church, the Simpson family fall asleep and dream they lived in biblical times.

Discussion: This is a trilogy-episode in the style of the Halloween episodes. The Simpsons fall asleep in church (oh come on, who hasn’t?) and dream they are characters in a biblical story. Each story is from the Old Testament: Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden, Moses parting the Red Sea and taking the Israelites with him, and David’s victory over Goliath. 

This is a great episode. It’s fresh, funny, and tells bible stories is a way that is largely inoffensive to religious types plus puts a Simpsons spin on itFlanders as God, the unicorn dying, Skinner as Pharaoh and Ralph Wiggum killing Goliath Jr are all part of the fun. Just when you think the show is going downhill fast, along comes something like this to liven it up again. 

The ending is interesting. Having realised that everyone has left church and they are the only ones, they go out into the world while the Apocalypse is happening. The Flanders family ascend to Heaven and Lisa begins to, until Homer pulls her down. Interesting that Lisa is the one to ascend- her ideas and skepticism about religion don’t exactly align with biblical teachings. It was evident in the Angel episode and will become more apparent soonish with her decision to become Buddhist. Anyhoo, maybe this was meant ironically. There is some debate among fans about the ending, whether it is canonical or not. Personally, I think it’s obviously not canonical. The Simpsons-world didn’t end and the Flanders appear in many more episodes. Plus, Lisa’s ascension into Heaven is most probably ironic and definitely doesn’t fit into the canon. 

He called me Greenhorn, I called him Tony Randall

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Maximum Homerdrive

It does not suck to be you

couch gag: The family have reversed ages: Marge and Homer are the kids while Bart and Lisa are adults. Maggie appears as a doll held by Homer. 

Director: Swinton O. Scott III

Synopsis: When Homer engages in an eating contest with a trucker named Red, Red unexpectedly dies and Homer takes over his trucking duties to deliver a shipment on time. Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa buy a doorbell. 

Discussion: I’m not sure how I feel about this episode. The beginning is very good, Homer as a trucker is good, truckers using an automatic driving device… WTF? Similarly, the subplot of Marge and Lisa buying a doorbell. OMG. A doorbell. This is right up there with missing feet from an egg craft box. Whoa, too much excitement! Tone it down, please.

Red Barclay is one of those characters that only appear once yet everyone knows who they are. In this case, it’s probably because he died after eating a steak the size of a boogie board and a whole lamb as well. Plus he’s an all-round nice guy. It’s noble of Homer to take on Red’s trucking duties, which brings me to my next observation: Who has more jobs, Homer or Gil? 

Anyhoo, this ep has a very similar title to that of the Max Power episode ‘Homer to the Max‘, which was only a few episodes ago. It makes things a bit confusing when two similarly named eps are in the same season, but I shouldn’t be complaining about writing ideas. I know that later seasons are so poorly done… but we’ll get to that later. 

Now, please enjoy Carpenters with ‘Close To You’. God bless you, Karen Carpenter. 

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