It is hard to say exactly where this Valentine’s Day-themed episode of The Simpsons goes wrong, but I think it might be the point where they forgot to include jokes. That’s not entirely fair. There are a few small jokes, some even almost worthy of a chuckle. For the most part, though, the episode simply cranks through its A- and B-plots without any real attempt at humor. While this season has occasionally landed a good episode, some, like this one, have been so lackluster as to make the whole business seem exhausted and exhausting. It is still hard to believe that the show is committed to churning out mediocrities like this for another two years. The worst crime of the episode appears to be a case of the guest star wagging the dog, with the show working so hard to make Lisa’s love interest a Michael Cera type that they forgot to give Michael Cera much to do in the way of acting or comedy. That’s a pretty large oversight for a guest star who is an actor often known for working in comedy.
After about a minute’s worth of re-establishing that Milhouse is a born loser with his one valentine and Itchy & Scratchy-caused night terrors, the B-plot kicks in through Bart and Milhouse going to great lengths to catch the Simpsons-ized version of Mythbusters. After watching guest stars Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage become so distracted by the fun of explosions and scatter plot data that they forget to actually disprove something, the boys decide to launch their own version. While Mythbusters, which has been on the air for nine years as of this writing, is certainly overripe for satirizing on The Simpsons, the gags here are weak. In the first instance, Bart and Milhouse prove that a certain combination on the snack machine will not electrocute kids. That this combination produces candy cigarettes could be funny, but instead the story weighs the joke down by first talking about why no one makes candy cigarettes any more, which should be obvious, and then then making not one but two references to Nelson’s subsequent addiction. Like this joke, the B-plot is capped with a moral that sucks the fun out of the execution, namely the idea that myths make life more fun. It is rare satire that will come out in favor of ignorance over knowledge.
The A-plot is set into motion by Marge setting Homer and Bart free on Valentine’s Day for a little guy time while she goes out to dinner with Lisa. Other than the lazy joke about how ladies are humorless and guys boorish, there is very little to say about the sequence involving Homer and Bart. On the other side, Lisa meets her umpteen-billionth smart boy crush, the aforementioned Michael Cera type, who is named Nick, reading A Farewell To Arms in the next booth. Their romance is an extended Hemingway homage, the joke, such as it is, being that this Michael Cera-voiced kid is supposed to be a Hemingway type and that crappy old Springfield is a far cry from Hemingway’s adventures in Europe, but the jokes don’t really land so much as flap around like wounded birds.
At the end of the second act, Marge suddenly prohibits Lisa from spending so much time with Nick for some reason. For some reason, this inspires Abe to tell them the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. For some reason, this turns into a moment when Abe helps Lisa and Nick run away to kiss each other on an island. For some reason, Lisa decides that kissing a person under a mulberry tree is a permanent commitment because of an ancient Roman myth, and for some reason, a quick vision of Hemingway’s first two wives persuades her not to kiss the kid. For some reason, the randomness of the third act does not work at all, as it appears that major plot points are suddenly cropping up out of thin air without much in the way of funny moments to help lighten the mood.
It must be difficult to piece together an episode when the Simpsons Plot Generator software churns out parts as random as Mythbusters, Hemingway, Michael Cera, and Pyramus And Thisbe. However, there have been many Simpsons episodes that have managed to piece together elements just as random into a coherent whole that is also funny throughout. Nobody believes that doing so is easy. On the other hand, the bar has been set so high by the best of the 499 Simpsons episodes that the mediocre ones seem remarkably poor in comparison. This episode was decidedly mediocre.
- I like the blink-and-you-miss it joke where Adam Savage hops into a pool after eating and then floats to the surface, dead.
- Why are the Van Houtens having dinner together in the next booth when Marge and Lisa go out to dinner? Isn’t it well established that they are divorced and she hates him?
- Such is the life of the juice-boxier!
- The Needle Exchange: We Mean Sewing.
- All prose must be spare and true in Moe’s bar. Fortunately or not, no joke is made about how it is neither a clean nor well-lighted place.
- I don’t normally approve of outbreeding, but you two seem nice.