Though it’s not the season finale, the Simpsons writers apparently saw “The Fabulous Faker Boy” as a chance to stuff in as many minor characters as possible. (Lisa, suspiciously: “Something smells fishy.” The Sea Captain, popping up out of nowhere: “Yar, that would be me.”) But what’s striking is that the writers seem to be as tired of the main characters as we are — “we” meaning TV viewers who watch animated series of a more recent vintage.
One plot is about Homer really going bald (losing the last two hairs on his head), a development that makes him even more insecure about his looks and once again has people questioning why Marge ended up with him. Homer, as in so many other episodes (like this one), is afraid of losing his wife, but the two characters are together for only a minute or two in this episode, as if no one could bear to write or watch another marriage-in-trouble story. After Marge assures Homer that she’ll love him no matter what, the missing hairs sprout back out and she mutters, “Thank God.”
The main plot of “The Fabulous Faker Boy” has Bart improbably becoming a piano prodigy — something that should pose an existential crisis for Lisa, given that her passion for the saxophone is probably the only thing keeping her from a nervous breakdown. But Lisa is sidelined so we can get to this week’s main guest voices: Jane Krakowski as a beautiful and heavy-accented Russian piano teacher named Zhenya and Bill Hader has her mobster-like father, named Slava.
It’s Principal Skinner who comes up with the idea of music lessons, and Bart is resistant until he falls for Zhenya. So we get another Bart-in-love story, and maybe it’s a meta joke that he doesn’t seem to care that it ends, as if it’s happened to him a couple of dozen times before this.
In exchange for the piano lessons, Marge agrees to teach Slava how to drive. He’s a stereotypical Russian who downs a bottle of vodka before getting behind the wheel and who bribes traffic cops with blue jeans. When he puts the car in reverse, he angrily says, “Want to go backwards! Like Russian economy under Putin!” Marge’s lampshade comment (“Stop making Putin jokes!”) is a feeble attempt to turn the stereotype into a parody of a stereotype.
Despite an unpromising start, Bart appears to become an expert pianist, and Marge is overjoyed by her underachieving son following through on something. Alas, his talent turns out to be a technological trick, and Marge is infuriated to learn of his deception on … Mother’s Day!
The relationship between Marge and Bart is actually one that hasn’t been done to death on The Simpsons, but it comes up too half-heartedly and is resolved too quickly in this episode.
Next week brings a double episode for the 24th season finale, the second one with guest voice Seth MacFarlane as a man who threatens the Simpsons’ marriage (sigh). At least we’re promised singing, which rarely goes wrong on this show.
- This week’s couch gag has the family in a 3-D world created by the Robot Chicken animators. The highlights are Homer killing Flanders by knocking him off a roof, Homer killing Mr. Burns by turning into a giant doughnut (OK, that’s cute) and repeatedly running him over, and Ralph Wiggum cooing, “I’m a fatality!” before the school bus he’s riding falls into a canyon and explodes.
- Ralph fares better when Slava backs out of a driveway too quickly and runs over the little red wagon he’s pulling. The boy emerges from the wreckage to happily exclaim, “Daddy says I was a accident!” Jokes about inadvertent pregnancy are an obsession of The Simpsons this season.
- Marriage as a circle of hell is another pervasive theme this season. This week, Lenny compliments Homer on landing Marge: “You lured Marge in with your hair, you trapped her with marriage, you skinned and field-gutted her by having kids… Now she’s mounted on your wall for good, with fake glass eyes and a rubber tongue.” Homer: “The way you put it, it sounds so perfect.”
- The title’s allusion to the film The Fabulous Baker Boys is justified by Bart’s daydream about Zhenya singing a Russian version of “Makin’ Whoopee” on top of the piano. The pair are transported to Moscow, where Lenin sits up in his tomb and gives Bart a thumbs-up. There’s also a bit about Beethoven’s ghost being deaf. Add them to the pile-up of dumb dead-people sight gags this season. (Last week it was Princess Di, Gandhi, and Sonny Rollins.)
- Zhenya: “Every note you play sounds like dying animal writhing on keys.” Bart: “Awesome!”
- Krakowski is one of the funnier recent guest voices. I love her pronunciation of “Bort.”
- Also guesting on this episode: Patrick Stewart, who tries to cheer up bald Homer by bragging about “sleeping with thousands of bald women.” Also, the much-hyped Justin Beiber, whose sole line is “That’s another 25 bucks we’ll never see. God!”
- Principal Skinner tells Marge that he takes flamenco guitar lessons as a way to channel his “destructive impulses.” How do you think that scene ends?
- Bart considers music lessons from Sideshow Mel, Comic Book Guy, and Professor Frink.
- Homer’s heart-to-heart with Apu over his baldness is interrupted by Nedsel Flanders (Ned’s beatnik dad) and the Rich Texan, who gives us this rusty joke: “A cowboy hat means I’m ashamed of my small penis! Don’t even ask me what this means! (fires his pair of six-shooters into the ceiling) Yee-haw! I’m a-compensatin’!”
- Martin Prince insists that “cachet” is not a “big word” that warrants an atomic wedgie by bullies Kearney, Jimbo, and Dolph.