Watching tonight’s episode of The Simpsons shortly after reading Nathan Rabin’s review of “Homer The Heretic” was not the wisest decision I’ve made. Sure, that older episode was more meaningful with its focus on faith and church compared to tonight’s parody of serialized television and fan culture, but The Simpsons has taken on fan culture before, with the Poochie episode. It’s more that half the jokes in tonight’s episode were cringe-worthy. This is a danger when having a major storyline that’s primarily a direct set of references.
I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a diatribe about how Old Simpsons Is Better—that’s been done to death, including by me. I cringed my way through the Glee parody episode of Community, after all. It’s more that for reference humor to work, it has to be more than a reference.
The culprit in “Beware My Cheating Bart” is the Homer plot, where he becomes addicted to watching streaming episodes of Stranded, an obvious Lost stand-in. He gets obsessed, taking detailed notes, and exclaiming how certain he is that every question raised will get a satisfying response. He invites his friends over for a discussion group, but they’ve finished the show and he’s scared to death of spoilers. The show itself is depicted as a series of random clues, including a magical kitten: “Oh my god. Inside the coconut...my pet cat, from when I was little.”
Most of these jokes are simply putting a focus on Lost and its fandom and saying “Hey, isn’t this weird?” Perhaps if I’d never heard of Lost or people who get really into serialized television shows, that would work. I doubt it. Instead, it just feels lazy. One line works: “Lousy Marge. Ruining the delicate relationship between a man and his TV show...”thanks largely to Castellanata’s line reading. But the whole thing gets resolved in bizarre fashion, with Homer overcoming his obsession thanks to Marge putting on an island-related sexy costume and redecorating the room for him.
The other storyline, with Bart getting a crush on an older girl who’s currently attached to Jimbo, does a little better. Sure, Bart-gets-a-crush has been done many times, so there’s nothing surprising here. But just because something is familiar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Familiar can be comfortable, not grating.
I was particularly fond of Bart’s reaction after his crush, Shauna, flashes him as a reward for him being kind to her. His immediate reaction—“Oh my god! It’s just like Dad’s!”—is probably the best line of the episode, but his continued state of shock is also charming. Everything people say to him seems to be about breasts, he starts seeing them in food, and even shivering in a blanket. And it involves Jimbo tearing off his hat, a gag that’s never worn out its welcome.
Speaking of gags, tonight’s couch gag was something special and is worth seeking out. It may not end up getting the attention that Banksy’s did last season, but it’s a fine showcase for the humor and animation style of Bill Plympton. It’s a special little moment in an episode that was anything but memorable otherwise.
- I loved Homer being revitalized by the exercise ball and bouncing on it happily. Probably because I’d do exactly the same thing.
- “Still has baby teeth at...9 and...24.” Jimbo knows teeth numbers!
- You may have noticed that we've played some Fox animation musical chairs this week. Thanks to Hayden Childs for doing these reviews!