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Archive for May, 2014

Today’s lesson is feed your props

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The Great Simpsina

Director: Chris Clements

Guest voices:
Jack McBrayer as Ewell Freestone
Martin Landau as The Great Raymondo
Ricky Jay as himself
David Copperfield as himself
Penn & Teller as themselves
Synopsis: Lisa stumbles across a magician, who takes her as his apprentice.

Discussion: Although this episode never really reaches the heights of a truly great Simpsons ep, it’s pretty good and very enjoyable. From its beginnings as an unrelated opening act in which the family pick a million peaches to its sweet ending as the great magician dances with his lost love, this ep is full of moments which make me wonder why every ep can’t be this good.

There were things that I would have liked to see, such as Ewell Freestone singing ‘Peaches‘ by Presidents of the United States of America, but then I realised that Ewell’s song was far more annoying and suited to the situation. I would have also liked to see a reference the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia, but that’s only because I’m a Disney fan and random Disney references are always welcome.

Apart from those, I thought the episode was well thought out and executed. Lisa-centered episodes tend to be preachy and boring, but this one, she uses her intelligence in a subtle way which doesn’t seem holier-than-thou… until she decides the ethical choice is to save Cregg Demon, who has been stealing magicians’ secrets and using them for his own gain. The addition of so many guest voices didn’t seem forced; they were in a natural environment doing what magicians do- sabotaging more successful magicians. Wait, what?

While I don’t think this season has been particularly good (colour me shocked), I do think this ep is a highlight.

You’re the one who gave him self-esteem

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Love is a Many Strangled Thing

Billboard: Moe in a bunny suit with the caption “Do not accept candy from this bunny”

I will not ridicule teacher’s final four bracket

Couch gag: In ASCII style, the Simpsons sit on the couch and Bart places the letters “Fatso” on Homer’s belly.

Director: Michael Polcino

Guest Voices:
Paul Rudd as Dr Zander
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as himself
Kevin Michael Richardson as the masseuse

Synopsis: Homer undergoes therapy when it is revealed he strangles Bart. After Homer is cured, Bart takes this as a license to be even more bratty.

Discussion: I get it: using conventional techniques on an unconventional family and laughing at the results. While the premise is pretty good, the execution feels like it’s deliberately pushing its own boundaries. By this, I mean the show has set some pretty high expectations of itself over the past 20-odd years and this feels like it’s trying to do more. It doesn’t work.

For a start, it’s the same old themes of Homer-Bart bonding, Bart acting out and Homer being a bad parent. We’ve seen it all before and not even a couple of awesome guest stars can make it different. Paul Rudd does a fantastic job as Dr Zander, keeping the neutrality in the character until the final act when the good doctor lets loose and ends up doing to Bart exactly what he’s trained out of Homer.

What is more concerning is the sheer amount of violence in the episode. What begins with Homer shooting at Mr Burns’ hot air balloon (and missing) ends with Homer hanging by a noose, with a lot of strangulation in between. It’s not entirely appropriate, especially Homer hanging from a noose. After Bart has deliberately steered Homer into cacti multiple times, Dr Zander still thinks it’s a good idea for Bart to save Homer’s life. Bart text-pranking Moe (which is really, really lame BTW) instead of being concerned for his father is uncomfortable, but I am also glad that there wasn’t a big hug at the end in which everything is forgiven: there’s still the same Homer-Bart relationship there’s always been.

It’s a slightly-above-average episode with a few laughs early on, but mostly disturbing.

Ever notice how your nose makes boogers?

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A Midsummer’s Nice Dream

Billboard: Springfield Wax Museum: We fixed our air conditioner

“Daylight Savings” is not a failed bank

Couch gag: The family sit down and are sprung into the air, hitting the screen

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest Voices:
Cheech Marin as himself
Tommy Chong as himself

Synopsis: Cheech and Chong have an onstage fight and Homer becomes Cheech’s new comedy partner. Meanwhile, Marge discovers Crazy Cat Lady is a hoarder and cleans up her house, only to take all her stuff and become a hoarder herself.

Discussion: Wow, I thought yesterday’s ep was bad. I’d happily watch that one on repeat if it meant I’d never have to watch this one again.

OK, I’m willing to concede that I don’t find reefer humour funny, so much of the episode was stupid anyway. Obviously it’s been toned down for general television viewing, which probably also makes it stupid, and I question how many people regularly watch The Simpsons while stoned? Maybe they did with this episode as a special treat.

In any case, Cheech and Chong are old hat; Homer and Bart’s exchange about Cheech and Chong being the Beavis and Butthead of the 70s while Bart asks who Beavis and Butthead are is pretty much right on the mark. Cheech and Chong are has-beens from a bygone era (although surely Bart would know Beavis and Butthead) and their relevance today is waaaay overstated. Having said that, Homer touring as part of legendary comic duo is a good premise, I only wish it was more relevant and less lame.

Meanwhile, Marge’s subplot lasted about three minutes. If you went to the bathroom, you’d miss it completely. Santa’s Little Helper chases a cat into Crazy Cat Lady’s house and Marge laments the sorry state of the home: it’s clear Ms Crazy is a hoarder. Why she has a Lotso Bear from Toy Story 3 is odd, and it’s quite visible in every scene. Marge cleans up the place, but finds interesting things in the back of the truck and everything ends up in Marge’s own house. On its own, this could be a really well-thought out plot, capable of holding an entire episode. As it stands here, it’s a last minute filler for an otherwise uninspiring episode.

I want to wedgie the sun

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The Scorpion’s Tale

Billboard: Springfield Mall for rent: Free retail space with every purchase

I’m not here on a spitball scholarship

Couch gag: A player chooses characters in the Simpsons Couch Gag game. As soon as the family sit down, the game is over.

Director: Matthew Schofield

Guest Voices:
Kevin Michael Richardson as the retirement castle orderly
Werner Herzog as Walter Hotenhoffer

Synopsis: Lisa discovers that silvertongue flowers make scorpions docile, and tests it on Grampa. Grampa also becomes docile, leading a pharmaceutical company to synthesise the drug and make old people less cranky. However, the side effect is that their eyeballs fall out.

Discussion: I really don’t know what to say about this episode. It’s easily one of the worst episodes ever. It begins well, with Lisa heading for another A in the science fair with her discovery of a correlation between silvertongue flowers and docility of scorpions. After that… well, let’s just say that some days, this Simpsons endeavour is a hard slog.

Cue all sorts of stupid German jokes when Walter Hotenhoffer appears, including his traumatic experience as Augustus Gloop in the film version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Seriously.

There’s nothing good to say about this ep. It’s unfunny, gruesome, tedious and stupid. It’s a serious WTF? ep.

The greatest weapon of all is mercy

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Angry Dad: The Movie

Couch gag: The Simpsons are ice hockey players sent to the penalty box for fighting.

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Guest voices:
Ricky Gervais as himself
Russell Brand as himself
Halle Berry as herself
Nick Park as himself
JB Smoove as DJ Kwanzaa

Synopsis: Bart’s web comic, Angry Dad, is made into a movie, garnering every award in Hollywood but Bart becomes jealous when Homer steals all the credit.

Discussion: Wow. What a load of steaming yellow crap. We first saw Angry Dad in ‘I am Furious (Yellow)‘, in which Bart creates a comic based on Homer’s tantrums. That was a very good episode. This sequel sucks monkey balls. It’s hard to isolate exactly why it sucks so badly though. Maybe it’s because we see approximately three seconds of Angry Dad. Maybe it’s the try-hard guest stars who seem embarrassed to be there. Maybe it’s the lame parodies of animation greats. It’s hard to choose.

I was expecting more from this episode. At the very heart of the episode is Bart’s anger at Homer taking all the credit and not allowing Bart to accept any awards, but this is lost underneath the theme from Jurassic Park (what?) and a bunch of parodies of famous works of animation. Normally I am a big fan of taking a risk, doing something different, but this ep tries too hard to push stuff together and it just doesn’t work. The plot, or what passes for a plot, is far too rushed and there’s nothing to hold the episode together apart from these claymation parodies and some guest stars.

I’m not a fan of Ricky Gervais, particularly in his “performance” here. His rambling speech to the bartender almost drove me to insanity. It’s completely unnecessary and embarrassing. Not amusing in the slightest. And don’t even get me started on the rambling rubbish over the credits! What a pile of poo! Halle Berry seemed glad when her part was over and Russell Brand probably only did it to pay off a debt. The voice talents, although appropriate, were completely wasted.

Nothing about this worked for me. The animation parodies were far too long, taking away from the main point that is Angry Dad. There’s no connection between Bart and Homer, not even in inevitable reconciliation. The plot is buried underneath animators trying to be clever. It’s just a rubbish episode, trying far too hard to be what it’s not. Did this originally air during sweeps week? It feels like someone’s shoved a bunch of popular stuff together to reach an audience whom, by now, really couldn’t care less and are probably only still watching the show because they’re high.

I’ve never seen a drunk hold his vomit like you do

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The Blue and the Gray

Billboard: Springfield Dinner Theatre presents Dr Hibbert and Mrs Skinner butchering Driving Miss Daisy

I will not make fun of Cupid’s dink

Couch gag: Homer breaks a leg getting to the couch and Barney is sent in to replace him.

Director: Bob Anderson

Synopsis: Homer becomes wingman for Moe while Marge allows her hair to become its natural grey colour.

Discussion: Please keep in mind that I’m Australian and changing to American spellings isn’t easy, so I’m sticking with Australian English. OK?

So. Marge goes grey and Homer’s a wingman. It’s an average episode, instantly forgettable with few romantic interludes. There have been some great Valentines’ Day episodes, such as Apu declaring his love for Manjula, but this one falls very, very flat. As a stand-alone episode, it’s mediocre at best, however as a Valentines’ Day episode, it sucks hairy monkey balls. Apart from five minutes at the beginning where Moe laments his love life and Homer and Marge have been doing it all night, and Maggie kissing her arch enemy at the very end, there’s really nothing that screams romance here. Lisa remarks that Marge changing her hair colours is “empowering”, but adds that virtually everything a woman does is empowering. Really?

It’s the kind of episode you can watch over and it seems vaguely familiar, but you can’t remember any details. The lowlights are also forgettable, which makes the whole ep just blend in together like mixed baby food. Homer as a wingman is a good plot premise, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Marge as a wicked witch is just weird (but mildly amusing, for about half a second as you realise where this is going…) and the conclusion is forgettable. Something about smooching in the kitchen after Marge dyes her hair blue again.

Yawn.

Everyone in that studio audience is dead now

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Homer the Father

Billboard: Springfield Seafood: 50% more eyes and a picture of Blinky, the three eyed fish.

Prince is not the son of Martin Luther King

Couch gag: The Simpsons chase the couch through the pages of Springfield Shopper newspaper

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest Voices:
Michael Paul Chan as Chinese agent
James Lipton as himself
David Mamet as himself
Garry Marshall as Sheldon Leavitt

Synopsis: Homer takes parenting advice from an 80s sitcom, telling Bart he should earn his dirt bike instead of Homer just buying it for him. Annoyed, Bart sells nuclear secrets to China in exchange for the dirt bike.

Discussion: Hands up, who loves sitcoms from the 1980s? *raises hand* Family sitcoms in the 80s followed a specific formula and it worked well for most of them. The ones that failed were usually due to cast issues, budget or just chemistry- they were missing that zing.

Homer is rediscovering 80s sitcoms and decides that since everything turns out for the best in sitcom world, he may as well try it on his own son. So when Bart wants a dirt bike, Homer tells him he has to earn it for himself. Dissatisfied with pulling good grades and not getting the bike, Bart resorts to selling nuclear secrets to foreign agencies.

Look, I like the premise. Everyone loves a bit of nostalgia and the fake Thicker Than Waters brilliantly captures the heart and soul of family sitcoms from the 80s, where the kids turned out perfect and problems were solved in half an hour. Bart selling nuclear secrets took the premise one step too far, twisting the sitcom genre entirely yet still showing the differences between functional families of the 80s and dysfunctional families of the 90s. The Simpsons started as an antithesis to those very sitcoms, showing the average American family as a dysfunctional unit who still loved and cared for one another as well as embracing morals and values. Oh come on, they totally do. Bart does a lot of bad stuff but always feels guilty for doing it. From shoplifting a video game to selling nuclear secrets, he always goes back and tries to amend things so that it all turns out OK. He does know his wrong from right, as most kids do, but the difference is that Bart acts upon these ideas, usually for selfish reasons. Deep down he does value his family, including his sisters.

Where was I? Right. Mostly, this episode is enjoyable, I just think Bart’s storyline takes it one step too far. It’s like ‘The Crepes of Wrath‘ but with a twist.

You get booty call and I get cootie call

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Flaming Moe

Couch gag: The Simpsons are scooped ice-cream into a a bowl, covered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, then licked up by Santa’s Little Helper

Director: Chuck Sheetz

Guest Voices:
Kristen Wiig as Calliope Juniper
Alyson Hannigan as Melody Juniper
Scott Thompson as Grady

Synopsis: Smithers helps Moe turn the tavern into a gay bar for less attractive men, while the new clientele assume Moe is gay. Meanwhile, Skinner falls for the substitute music teacher.

Discussion: Not to be confused with ‘Flaming Moe’s‘ from the third season, this episode sees Moe changing his bar yet again. This time, he’s catering to Springfield’s not-so-attractive gay men, trans population and drag queens. The catalyst for this venture with Smithers is because Mr Burns has left Smithers out of his will. I’m not so sure this is the best catalyst, as a gay bar doesn’t really exact revenge on Burns… but anyway, everything else seems to work.

While Moe and Smithers are catering for gay Springfieldians (there seem to be more and more gay townspeople every week!), Skinner is busy falling in love (or lust) with Ms Calliope Juniper, a young and enthusiastic music teacher. After a double date with Bart and Calliope’s daughter Melody, Skinner scores. Nice one, Seymour. Naturally, he’s single again by the end of the episode but that’s what we come to expect of poor ol’ Skinner.

There’s so much about this ep that worked, it’s easy to overlook the things that didn’t. There were two laugh-out-loud moments for me: one was early on when Mr Burns sneezed and his scalp flipped open, revealing his brain, and the other was Mr Largo calling for a drum roll and Ralph rolls past inside the drum. Two visual gags which are very welcome and so funny.

I’d have liked to see more of Melody. She was interesting enough to warrant a few extra minutes at the expense of Moe’s running for council. This episode focused on Skinner/Calliope and Moe/Smithers, making the Simpsons peripheral characters. While there’s nothing wrong with this, the interaction between Bart and Melody felt forced and could have been more organic; maybe bring Lisa in to befriend her when the date didn’t go well or even before that, when negotiations fell flat.

I’d also have liked to see at least one scene with Edna making fun of Skinner’s new relationship. Let’s face it, she pretends not to be bitter and takes every opportunity to poke a little deeper into making fun of their failed relationship and Skinner’s flaws as a boyfriend and potential husband. Anyhoo. It’s still a great episode.

It’s the worst prognosis ever

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Moms I’d Like to Forget

Billboard: Cletus and Brandine spruiking the Spuckler Day Care: “just chuck ’em in the pile”

January is not Bart history month

Couch gag: The couch prepares for “work”- letting the Simpsons sit on it.

Director: Chris Clements

Synopsis: Discovering a scar on his hand which matches scars on three other kids’ hands, Bart seeks the truth while Marge befriends her whole mothers’ group buddies.

Discussion: So, does anyone actually care how Bart got his scar? Nah, me neither. The viewer knows something will happen to encourage family bonding while losing new found friends, but I still felt ripped off by the story. There was nothing here to hold any sort of interest whatsoever, and Bart’s escapades seemed like filler for a story that was never going anywhere.

Sometimes I think episodes have a cute title and the writers throw together ideas relating to that title just to get an episode happening. This is one of those times. It seems like a cute play on MILF but turns into some weird sort-of friendship that fills the hours instead of filling a psychological need to be part of a group. Marge doesn’t have a lot of luck in having or holding friends, and this one is no different. She used to be friends with these people and suddenly remembers in the dying minutes of the ep why she stopped being friends with them. And apparently it has nothing to do with mommy-on-mommy action.

It is, quite simply, a lame episode which offers nothing but cheap stunts, controversial scenes and unsatisfactory conclusions. I really started to wonder why I continue with this project, but even during the craptacular episodes, I still hope that tomorrow’s one is worth the wait.

To heterosexual male friendship, like the Greeks

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Donnie Fatso

Billboard: Snake offering luxury cars missing one window, with the proviso “No Cops”.

Candy canes are not elf bones

Couch gag: Various Springfieldians are depicted on an advent calendar, ending with the Simpsons on their couch.

Director: Ralph Sosa

Guest voices:
Jon Hamm as FBI agent
Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony and Fit Tony

Synopsis: Homer, imprisoned for bribery, is sent to infiltrate Fat Tony’s gang.

Discussion: You’d think a mob-related episode where Homer is a snitch would be most entertaining. Unfortunately this ep doesn’t live up to its premise. While I’m always glad to see Fat Tony, he’s not quite the character we’ve come to know and love, and Homer’s performance doesn’t really hit any good points.

The premise for Homer going to jail is flawed, but then again I can’t think of anything better. Getting Homer to infiltrate Fat Tony’s mob is a really good idea, which falls flat pretty much as soon as the idea is floated. I kept waiting for something to happen but it never did. And then, to really insult the viewers, they kill off Fat Tony and replace him with his stressed cousin, Fit Tony! WHAT THE HELL???

There’s nothing about this episode that convinces me I should have wasted twenty minutes watching it. The premise is a very good one, who wouldn’t want to see Homer infiltrate the mob? The execution (if you’ll pardon the expression) is lame. There’s too much focus on a friendship between Homer and Fat Tony, much like his friendship with Clancy Wiggum a few eps ago. We want to see some action! Less crying, more dying. More mob plots, more initiation, more nitty gritty. As it stands, it’s just lame and gets worse (yes, that’s possible) when Fat Tony is killed. Really?

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