The main thing I gathered from the twenty-third season of The Simpsons was that the writers aren’t really all that interested in writing stories for the Simpsons universe anymore. Rather, they want to write unrelated plots that somehow shoehorn in the Simpsons and Springfield. So many of the episodes this season were totally outside the general scope of the show. And while trying new things can be beneficial, is this show really supposed to focus on killer robots and imaginary spies? Sometimes this stretching of genres can work, but it often doesn’t. Here are my reviews of the individual episodes, with links to LiveJournal posts where I discussed them in the past.
The Falcon and the D’ohman – I can’t say I remember this one that well, and I didn’t bother writing a review when it came out, which doesn’t reflect too well on it. This one set the tone of this season trying to bring the Simpsons into other genres, this time a tale of international espionage. Homer befriends a former federal agent who works as a former security guard, and gets caught up in an adventure with a Ukrainian agent. This wasn’t a bad one, and Homer remained in character throughout, but neither was it that good.
Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts – While this probably would have been just an okay episode in some seasons, for this one it was well above average. For this one, the writers had the crazy idea of actually focusing on the characters for once, and being somewhat educational as well. It’s the first time we really see Superintendent Chalmers developed beyond being Principal Skinner’s antagonist, and getting Bart interested in history by focusing on one of the most bad-ass presidents was really quite clever. When looking at the chart of presidents, Bart really should have recognized Bush Sr. and Ford and former neighbors, but what are you going to do?
Treehouse of Horror XXII – Not very impressive. The first segment was just Homer farting for a few minutes. The second, with Homer getting Ned Flanders to kill people, wasn’t particularly original and seemed like the germ of an idea that wasn’t really developed. Some good jokes, but nothing to write home about. It would have made more sense if Homer hadn’t been behind it. The third was a parody of a movie I haven’t seen, so I probably missed a fair number of the jokes. The bulldozersaurus was pretty cute, though, and we finally got to see Kang and Kodos at home.
Replaceable You – This one wasn’t bad, but probably could have been better. The descriptions I read of it before seeing it made it sound like Jane Lynch’s character taking Homer’s job was going to be the main focus, but that turned out to be more or less secondary to Bart and Martin’s robo-seals. Also, Roz’s power grab occurred much faster than I thought it would, which might have been a side effect of what probably should have been an A-story being the B-story instead. I did find the bit about Ned Flanders remembering Roz from Bible camp to be a nice bit of character development. Isn’t Mr. Burns also afraid of being touched, though? The robo-seal plot was all right, but the conflict seemed tacked on, and didn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway. People still die even if they’re happy, so why would the funeral industry care so much about the seals? I did think the crossed wires making the robots evil was a nice bit of continuity, and Professor Frink’s inappropriate acronym was worth a laugh. Also, Mrs. Glick is dead now? It’s not like they used her much as of late anyway.
The Food Wife – Pretty good, although the show does seem to be a bit inconsistent on what Homer will eat. Sometimes he’ll eat anything, and other times will avoid anything exotic. I remember a joke in “The Last Temptation of Homer” about his having a cheeseburger at a Chinese restaurant. I guess they just go with whatever they think is funny in a particular scene. It is kind of weird that Homer doesn’t want to be a food critic when he already was one in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner,” but maybe the fact that this led to his almost being killed was what turned him against the idea. I also have to give points to the video game convention scene, although the parody names they come up with have been getting a bit weak.
The Book Job – Another parody of a movie I haven’t seen, but the idea of collaborative young adult fiction writing as a criminal scheme was amusing enough in and of itself. I also think it did a better job with the multiple twist endings than other episodes have in the past. (“The Great Money Caper” comes to mind here.) A coming-of-age story about trolls is probably actually a good idea, although I have to suspect it’s probably been done before. I don’t know that the golem love story has, though
The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants – It wasn’t too bad, but it kind of just went through the motions, without the conflict ever really amounting to much. And ending with the ridiculous cliché of someone trying to do two things in the same place? Yeah, I think they were making fun of it instead of just using it, but it wasn’t that funny anyway. Well, aside from Mr. Burns saying he survived the wreck of the Titanic by making a raft out of steerage passengers. Burns is usually still pretty amusing even when the episodes themselves aren’t, although the writers seem to have largely given up on the running gag of his always forgetting who Homer is. Come on, don’t forget the classic jokes!
The Ten Percent Solution – There were some good moments, and I think Krusty is a character who’s still generally amusing even when the plots aren’t. He’s a good example of a character who’s funny because he’s not funny. The spoof on the current wave of nostalgia was pretty good, too. It just didn’t seem like the story really went anywhere, and the ending was pretty abrupt. It didn’t really resolve anything, either, especially because we all know Krusty will be back doing his regular show the next time a plot or joke calls for it. Speaking of which, is Krusty still in Congress?
Holidays of Future Passed – The fourth Simpsons episode to take an extended look into a possible future for the characters, this one tried to cram too much in, and even though the underlying message was decent, I don’t think it worked that well. As with some of the earlier future episodes, they did way too many jokes about improbable technology. “Lisa’s Wedding” had some of those as well (and hey, it’s now 2011, so where are our commercial biplanes and self-aware robots with melting heads?), but it mostly focused on the characters. With the other three, it seemed that the technology gags took precedent. Tonight’s episode also had a similar characterization of Bart to the one in “Bart to the Future,” which I really didn’t like that much. So much of the show suggests that Bart really does have potential to turn his life around, but both of these suggest that in thirty years he’s just become more of a loser. Eh, whatever.
Politically Inept with Homer Simpson – I know it takes a while to make an episode, and Glenn Beck was probably still on TV when they came up with the plot, but it still seems a bit outdated. It’s especially weird when they obviously stuck in a lot of textual jokes at the last minute, like the references to current Republican presidential candidates, which made for an odd balance. Besides, I’m not sure I buy Homer as a Beck type. Sure, they’re both loud-mouthed idiots, but Beck always came across to me as more of a sleazy huckster than just an average schmo in over his head. I guess it’s kind of cool than Ted Nugent was willing to make fun of himself, but I think he might be playing a character all the time anyway. It’s pretty much impossible to tell these days which celebrities are truly insane and which are putting on a show. Mind you, I think for a lot of them it’s a mixture of both. Really, though, Ted, what did animals ever do to you? There were some good jokes, but most of it seemed a bit obvious. It wasn’t subtle enough for a light-hearted spoof, but at the same time it was too toothless to be effective satire.
The D’oh-cial Network – The idea of Lisa starting a Facebook-like social network for Springfield is a little weird when an earlier episode actually mentioned Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, but the way it played out was all right. Not great, but all right. Nothing earth-shattering in the plot or the humor, but I guess it worked, and the frame story with the trial was a good way to riff on the typical episode structure. I do get a bit annoyed at people making the same point over and over again about how socializing online isn’t really the same as socializing in person, though.
Moe Goes from Rags to Riches – This one doesn’t appear to have gone over all that well with the public, but I thought it was all right. There was a bit of fantasy episode to it, since it put familiar characters in historical settings, sort of like “Margical History Tour” or some of the Halloween segments. Bizarre, but interesting enough simply for the novelty, and some good historical jokes along the way. I felt that the subplot with Bart and Milhouse, while enjoyable enough, didn’t really fit into this one. Since it never really tied in with the bar rag’s story, I think it might have been better used in a different episode where it could have been less awkwardly incorporated.
The Daughter Also Rises – This was a mixed bag for me. I liked Bart and Milhouse busting the myths around the school, but the Lisa plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The kid writes like Hemingway, so Lisa assumes he also treats girls like Hemingway did? How does that follow? Oh, well. It had its moments, and there have certainly been worse episodes as of late.
At Long Last Leave – The 500th episode at last! And it was terrible! At least usually when the whole town turns against the Simpsons, there’s more of a reason for it. Here, they half-assed that part, and for what reason? So they could get to some cobbled-together plot about the family living out in the country? They were apparently trying to do something big for the five hundredth episode, but it didn’t make any sense. Also, if Abe was with the family when they were being banished, where did he go when they actually left the town? And I don’t really see the point to Julian Assange as a guest star. I could pull a better cartoon out of my…hey hey!
Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart – I guess since Bart’s affinity for graffiti was established quite early on, they pretty much had to do something with the more modern idea of graffiti as art and social commentary, but no one seemed to be able to make an actual story out of it. Instead, it kept switching back and forth from that to other ideas that could potentially have made decent plots if they’d bothered to develop them, like the opening of Swapper Jack’s. And Marge’s new bunny was a waste as well, being used for just the one plot point and then a few jokes with the cage. I liked some of the jokes, but the whole thing was a mess overall.
How I Wet Your Mother – I found the plot too bizarre for…well, a Simpsons episode. Maybe it would have worked as a Halloween story. I don’t know. It just rather strained what little believability the show has left. Not to mention that Homer’s childhood trauma turned out to be quite anticlimactic anyway, and most of the dream stuff wasn’t all that funny. There were a few clever moments, like the return to Tracey Ullman style animation, but not enough to really justify the wacky premise.
Them, Robot – The spate of overly bizarre, and not even amusingly bizarre, episodes continues with this one, in which Mr. Burns replaces the workers at the power plant with robots, and Homer inadvertently makes them into killing machines. Not only does it strain believability to the breaking point, but it’s been done before. Remember how “Itchy & Scratchy Land” had a plot with rampaging robots that fit with the established universe, was actually funny, and didn’t take up the entire episode? Yeah, apparently today’s writers want to take plots that were done right and remake them so they’re much worse. It is worth mentioning that they used a They Might Be Giants song for the credits, though.
Beware My Cheating Bart – Another one that didn’t do much for me, and I found the age issue a little awkward. How old were Jimbo and his girlfriend supposed to be? It was never really established, so her showing her breast to a ten-year-old came across as a bit off. As for the Homer subplot, I never watched Lost, but I thought commentary on the whole notion of watching shows years after they aired and still not wanting to have them spoiled was interesting.
A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again – Now this was one I actually liked, perhaps because I could identify with Bart’s reluctance for the vacation to end, and how he felt like it would make regular life seem all the more boring by comparison. As a side note, it also finally allowed the Simpsons to visit all seven continents, with the family being marooned in Antarctica.
The Spy Who Learned Me – Didn’t they already do a spy plot this season? This time, after Homer ruins a movie for Marge by talking through it, a head injury makes him hallucinate that the main character is giving him relationship advice. And it felt like not much happened. Also, Bart tries to stop Nelson’s bullying with an idea he gets from a movie reminiscent of Supersize Me, making it clear that the outdated parodies aren’t always because of a delay in making the episodes.
Ned ‘n’ Edna’s Blend – Developing on the notion of Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel getting together, this episode delves into their early married life and conflicts with their personalities. The continuity nerd in me was saying that we’d seen Rod and Todd at Springfield Elementary School in the past (see “Bart the Daredevil” and “Bart the Lover,” for instance), but it kind of makes more sense for them to have been going to private school. Not all that much plot-wise, but it was nice to see an actual long-term relationship among supporting characters being developed for the first time in a while.
Lisa Goes Gaga – One thing you can say about this season is that it wasn’t big on celebrity guest stars taking over the episodes. Well, until this one, anyway. I didn’t have anything against the over-the-top presentation of Lady Gaga, which was funny enough, but did it have to be dragged out over the whole show? There was so much focus on her that the rest of the episode just felt thrown together, and it didn’t build up much sympathy for Lisa.