Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E20 – Four Great Women and a Manicure

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Hey everybody! Here we are again, during the most bland and uninteresting week of Simpsons episodes basically ever! And what better way to demonstrate that then by having one of those triptych episodes. And, even better, they managed to cram a fourth story in there two! Lucky us! But they’re at least doing something a little different, because the frame story revolves around Lisa and Marge going to a salon to get a mani/pedi, while also telling stories about great and powerful women.

Queen Elizabeth I

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Our first story, told by Marge, tells the tale of Queen Elizabeth the First, one of the most well known queens in England’s history. Here played by Selma. We see that Queen Selma is being pressured into getting married and having an heir. But she hates every single one of her suitors, so that makes things difficult. Well, until she’s visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Homer, an explorer who has been visiting the New World, and has even brought tobacco back to England, which Selma is a big fan of. Selma takes a shine to Homer, but he’s too busy hitting on Marge, who is one of the princesses under Selma. Selma finds out about their relationship though, and decides to send Homer to the Tower of London to die. Well, that is until they hear word that the King of Spain took offense at being rejected as Selma’s husband, and is sending the Spanish Armada to come take England by force. So they have bigger fish to fry than Homer and Marge’s affair. War then begins, and Homer has to board a ship and head out to fight the Armada, when something dumb happens. Homer lights a pipe, and ends up lighting his ship on fire. All of the British soldiers bail off the ship, and it gets swept into the Armada, lighting all of their ships on fire, and saving England. So, Homer gets a commendation and Marge’s hand in marriage, and Selma went on being powerful and unmarried.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

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The second tale, told by Lisa, is basically just a retelling of Snow White, particularly the Disney version, with Lisa as Snow White. We see Lisa being menaced by a wicked queen, who’s just some generic character, by sending Willie the Huntsman to go kill her and remove her heart. But when Willie gets to Snow White’s house he decides he can’t kill her, and lets her flee into the woods. Lisa wanders around for a while until she finds a little house. She breaks in and heads up to the bedroom, pulling a Goldilocks until she finds a nice bed to sleep in. Which is when the dwarves come in. We have Crabby (Moe), Greedy (Mr. Burns), Drunky (Barney), Hungry (Homer), Lenny (Lenny), Kearney (Kearney), and Doctor Hibbert. They find Lisa in their home, and after briefly contemplating murdering her, they welcome her to their lives, and they become fast friends. But then one day a witch shows up, and ends up forcibly cramming a poisoned apple down Lisa’s throat. Lisa falls into a deep slumber, and the queen has to flee, before getting mauled to death by some cuddly woodland animals. After which they put Lisa in a glass coffin, and she stays there for eternity, because she doesn’t need any man to save her.

Lady Macbeth

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Marge is a little unhappy with Lisa’s choice to end the Snow White story without a husband, and decides to tell the story of a very happy married couple. The Macbeth’s! Well, actually, this story is about Homer and Marge as they act in a staged rendition of Macbeth. Marge is working on costumes, and Homer has been stuck with playing a tree. Marge is irritated that Sideshow Mel is play Macbeth, and not Homer, and decides that they should murder Mel so Homer can get the lead. Homer agrees with this, and goes to kill Mel with his bone, getting the opportunity to be the new Macbeth. Although, Homer’s pretty terrible at it, and has to read most of his lines from a script taped onto his shield. Even though he also has lines from Bye Bye Birdie and the Matrix Reloaded. Which leads to some terrible reviews, especially for Homer. Although, Dr. Hibbert got great reviews, so Marge sends Homer to kill him next. Homer pumps a bunch of laughing gas into Hibbert’s office, slowly asphyxiating him. But this didn’t really change anything, because now the reviews shine light on literally everyone but Homer. So, Marge sends Homer to the cast-party so he can kill all the stragglers, making him the only person on stage. And, without anyone there to upstage him and no one in the audience, Homer does a fantastic job and knocks it out of the park. But Marge’s joy at seeing Homer doing well is cut short when she’s haunted by the ghosts of everyone she had Homer kill, leading to her having a heart attack. Marge’s ghost tries to convince Homer that he can have a great career as a Shakespearean actor, but he just kills himself so he doesn’t have to read any more plays.

Maggie Roark

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But things aren’t over yet! Because when we cut back to the salon we see that Maggie wanted a story read about her. So Marge looks around, spots a copy of the Fountainhead, and she begins to spin a tale about that, even though Lisa accurately points out that it’s just a bible for right-wing losers. But Marge doesn’t care about that, and tells the tale of Maggie Roark, a brilliant baby who loves building impressive building out of blocks at her daycare. However, the owner of the daycare, a man named Ellsworth Toohey, hates that Maggie has so much talent, and just tries to quash it to make her more normal. The two engage in a bit of a war where Maggie keeps outdoing her skills while Toohey keeps destroying them. And it all leads to Toohey holding a weird little court case between the babies, and he gives a speech about how mediocrity is the best. Maggie then gives her own speech, voiced by Jodie Foster, about exceptionalism, and all the garbage Ayn Rand people love. Maggie wins the case, and ends up becoming a famous architect in the future. And the episode ends with Marge scolding Maggie for painting a perfect “Starry, Starry Night” with nail-polish.

Listen, most of these triptych episode have been pretty rough lately. They’ve been getting increasingly strange and strain the theme as much as they can, all while just putting in lackluster segments that don’t have the weight or craft as the Treehouse of Horror episodes. And this one is not really any different. I think the idea of telling stories of powerful women is a good idea, but they barely keep that theme going. Telling the story of Elizabeth the First is great, but it quickly becomes all about Homer saving the day. Snow White is a weird call anyway, but especially so when it just keeps the story of Snow White running from her problems and being bested. You would have thought that they would have changed things and had her get the best of the witch or something. And I really don’t know what’s up with the Lady Macbeth thing, because that’s basically all about Homer being nagged by Marge, and she’s barely in it! I guess the segment that best uses the theme is the Maggie one, but that one is so truncated and weird. I do enjoy the dig at how stupid Ayn Rand is and how people who believe in objectivism are assholes, but other than that there wasn’t much to that one. It’s just a weird episode, that seemed to not understand what the theme was, and then stuffed a bunch of lackluster and rushed little segments in. So, in short, it’s a triptych episode from this era.

Take Away: Don’t blow off the Spanish, don’t trust witches, don’t kill people, and don’t read Ayn Rand.

 

“Four Great Women and a Manicure” was written by Valentina Garza and directed by Raymond S Persi, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E19 – Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D’oh

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Howdy everyone, and welcome back to another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And it’s a very mediocre week ahead of us. We’re going to get to Season 21, but other than that it’s pretty unremarkable. And we start off with today’s episode, a largely forgettable episode that does feature an obnoxious song that has been stuck in my head for days. Things are getting dire.

The episode starts off with Mage going out for a jog, when she’s stopped by a guy handing out a new drink called Science Water. It’s just Vitamin Water, but the Simpsons clearly thought that it wasn’t going to be a successful enterprise, so it’s just a lot of mockery. And once Marge has chugged several bottles she realizes she has to pee, and begins racing around town, desperate to find a bathroom she can use that doesn’t require being a customer.

Marge has several failed attempts, but finally finds a viable bathroom when she passes the Elementary School. She runs in, pees, and decides to just wander around and check out the school. And she is not pleased. The school is rundown, every classroom seems incredibly over-crowded, Mrs. Krabappel is straight up asleep, and Ms. Hoover is having Ralph teach the class because she reached tenure and can’t be bothered anymore.

So Marge of course storms into Principal Skinner’s office to yell at him about how crappy the school is. And Skinner doesn’t really care, he’s too busy drinking scotch. He ensures her that since it’s a crappy public school in a bad part of the district, there really isn’t anything that will change. So Marge just has to head home, still fuming about this revelation.

However, that night they find a solution. Because while Milhouse is staying over for dinner he mentions that he has a cousin who goes to another school in the district, but in the rich part of town called Waverly Hills, and it’s amazing. So, seeing no other solution, Homer and Marge decide that they should rent a small apartment in the Waverly Hills area so that Bart and Lisa could start going to school there instead of at Springfield Elementary.

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Homer then goes to wander around Waverly Hills with Cookie Kwan, trying to find the absolute worst and cheapest apartment that Waverly Hills has to offer. They see several terrible ones, but end up settling on a miniscule studio apartment that has a Murphy bed that won’t fully pull out and no bathroom. So, Homer signs the paperwork, and he and Marge head over to the Waverly Hills city hall to fill out the necessary paperwork to get Bart and Lisa enrolled.

But they hit a slight snag. Because they find out that people try this scam a lot, so at some random time they’re going to be visited by an inspector to ensure that Bart and Lisa are actually living in the area. And to make matters worse the inspector is apparently Anton Chigurh. So, until the inspector actually shows up, they decide to have Homer live in the terrible apartment, ready to spring into action whenever he shows up.

That doesn’t really affect Bart and Lisa though, who get to go to their new school. And it’s intense. It’s got everything the kids could want, including stables and real meat in the cafeteria. They do run into a slight problem when Principal Skinner arrives, trying to convince Lisa to come back so that their average test scores won’t plummet. But that doesn’t really cause a big issue. What does cause an issue is that these new schoolgirls are horrible.

Lisa finds that the girls at the school are incredibly cliquey and are all obsessed about a teenaged singer named Alaska Nebraska. And when Lisa admits she has no idea who that is, she becomes the butt of ridicule. She also gets her first B+ on an assignment, and realizes that she’s not popular and she’s not a brain here, and thus has no identity. Which really starts to make her panic and realize that she has no idea what to do.

Meanwhile, Bart has decided that the best way to survive in this new school is to make himself the coolest kid in school. Which he does by striking a bargain with Chief Wiggum where Bart will attend Ralph’s birthday party if Wiggum fake arrests Bart. This goes down, and all of the kids in the school assume that Bart is the baddest mother-fucker in town. And with that power, he decides to do something to help Lisa out.

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And while all of this school drama is going on there’s also a weird little B-Plot developing. Because back at Homer’s terrible apartment he’s realized that all of his neighbors are stupid college students. And Homer fits right in. He begins partying with the students, and even calls Marge over to hang out with him. And, shockingly, Marge isn’t disgusted by this new life he’s leading. Instead, she has fun with it, and the two have a weird evening where they pretend that they’re college students having a one-night stand, and really seem to have a great time together.

But before we finish out this little apartment plot, let’s see what Bart’s plan to get Lisa popular was. Because it’s not great. He goes to all of the popular kids, and tells them that Lisa is actually best friends with Alaska Nebraska, and has just been lying to keep her privacy. The girls then become obsessed with Lisa, even the teachers, and she’s suddenly the most popular girl in school, all while not really knowing why.

Eh, let’s just finish the Marge and Homer plot. The two begin living a weird little life together, pretending that they’re in college and dating. Homer gives Marge a key to the apartment, and she responds by decorating the place so that it actually resembles a place for humans to live in. And this of course irritates dumb Homer, and they have a little squabble about personal space. Which is stopped when Anton Chigurh shows up. Homer and Marge then have to pretend that Homer and the kids live here, and they shockingly do a great job. Chigurh is pleased, and he signs off on the Simpsons attending the new school.

Which may be a little premature, because guess what? Lisa’s popularity is about to burst. Because the girls are done being friendly to her, and now expect some backstage passes to Alaska Nebraska’s concert. And, left with no other alternatives, Lisa sneaks backstage at the venue to beg Alaska Nebraska for tickets. She tries giving an impassioned speech, but this pop star is just here for money, and flatly rejects Lisa’s request. So she has to tell the girls the truth, and they promptly attack her. So Bart and Lisa rush to Homer’s apartment, and tell them that they’re sick of this new school, and want to go back to normal. Which they do, but they also turn Bart’s treehouse into a little apartment so that Homer and Marge can continue their roleplay.

 

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This episode is fine. And really nothing more than that. There are some good things, some weird things, and some bad things, but they all just kind of come out in the wash to just a bland and fine episode. We’ve seen Bart and Lisa try to go to new schools, and we’ve seen them try and pretend to be other people to win over new students. What we haven’t seen was Homer pretending to be a dumb college kid and living in a shitty apartment. Honestly, that B plot was more interesting to me than anything going on in the main story. It’s nice that Bart tried to help Lisa, even though he did it in the dumbest and more short-sighted way possible, but it’s all fine. I have literally no idea why they thought to put Anton Chigurh in this episode, especially being two years after that movie came out, but whatever, I can dig it. Really, it all just boils down to the fact that this episode focuses on something we’ve seen before, and doesn’t do anything special with, while keeping something fresh and weird relegated to a B story.

Take Away: Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t to win over people, and sometimes your marriage needs something to spice it up.

 

“Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D’oh” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Michael Polcino, 2009.

 

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Reel Talk

Colossal and Our Personal Demons

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When you’re a movie lover you can sometimes feel like you’ve seen everything before. It reaches the point that you kind of trick yourself into thinking that there’s nothing new that can be made. That you’ve seen every story done in every way it possibly could. But then something glorious happens. You come across a movie that’s so incredibly original, and does something so shocking with plot and genre expectations that it revitalizes your faith in the movies. And when this happens, it’s a magical experience. To find something new and original doesn’t happen every day, and when it does it needs to be cherished. So you can imagine my pleasure when I first heard about Colossal. Like a lot of great movies I first heard rumblings of it during a Fantastic Fest where it seemed to blow just about everyone away. Because just that central premise, and that wonderful trailer, shows you that this movie was going to be something different. It was going to be something special. And, shockingly, when you actually sit down and watch Colossal you find something amazing. It’s even crazier, even darker, and even more inventive than you possibly could have imagined. This is a movie that I highly recommend seeing, but I also recommend going in as blind as possible. Because this movie is a hell of a trip.

Colossal revolves around a woman named Gloria whose life has completely fallen apart. She’s been fired from her job as a writer, she’s an alcoholic, and her boyfriend Tim has just kicked her out of their apartment. So, with no other alternatives, Gloria moves back to her hometown and into her parents old house. And, almost immediately, she runs into a guy named Oscar that she knew when they were kids. Oscar is very friendly to Gloria, and takes her to the bar that he owns, that used to be his fathers The two catch up, get drunk, and in the morning Gloria shuffles back to her sad little house. And when she wakes up the next morning she finds that something horrible has happened. A giant monster materialized in Seoul, South Korea, and it destroyed some buildings before vanishing without a trace. This is obviously all the people in the town can talk about, and Gloria gets dragged into many conversations about the creature. She also gets offered a job at Oscar’s bar, to help her get back on her feet, which she accepts. So Gloria begins working at the bar, and almost every day the creature reappears in Seoul, causing more damage. And as Gloria becomes obsessed with the monster she realizes something. It has the same mannerisms as her. So she begins doing some experiments, and finds something ridiculous. When she walks through a playground in town at 8:05 in the morning, she controls the monster. Somehow she is the monster. So she of course shows Oscar and some of the guys from the bar this astonishing ability that she has. However, while showing off she suddenly starts to panic when she realizes that she’s killing innocent people by proxy, and she falls down. She wakes up the next morning, and finds something shocking. When she fell Oscar jumped into the playground too, and that caused a giant robot to appear in Seoul. Oscar has the curse too.

Gloria realizes that she’s causing serious damage, and manages to make her monster give a message to the people of Seoul, telling them that she’s sorry and will never do it again. And everything seems okay at that point. Until Gloria drunkenly sleeps with one of Oscar’s friends. When he finds out, something snaps in Oscar. He drops his nice-guy act, and a much darker person emerges. Oscar becomes angry and vindictive, deciding to go around and cause havoc in Seoul as the giant robot. Gloria tries to stand up to him, but Oscar kind of has the perfect threat. He promises that if she leaves, if she does anything to irritate him, he’ll destroy more of Seoul, and she’ll be responsible. It’s at this point that we learn that Oscar is a complete creep. All of his life he’s been resentful for Gloria’s success, and when she came back to town he was thrilled that her life became as pathetic as his. Now he wants to keep things that way, and will threaten the lives of unknown amounts of people to get it done. Gloria tries to talk sense into Oscar, but he’s too far off the deep end, and she realizes that there’s only one thing to do. Go to Seoul, find the corresponding area there, and attack Oscar as a kaiju. And it works. She flies to Seoul, and as Oscar’s robot is about to attack the city she causes her monster to appear in the small town, grabbing Oscar and defeating him and his robot. She’s then free of her burden, and has to figure out what to do with her life.

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This movie is a hell of an experience. I had heard great things, but it really exceeded all of my expectations. The sheer premise of the movie, a woman finding herself while also realizing that she sometimes controls a massive monster that’s destroying a city, is so completely bizarre and wonderful, I knew that I was always going to like the movie. But then things got even crazier, with the Oscar reveals, both the robot and his true intentions, and the movie just got better and better. It threw me thought a loop, having me have no idea where it was going. Which can be a rarity. This movie was anything but predicable, and really became one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a theater this year. It’s a wonderfully crafted film that is somehow able to weave between what feels like a grounded tale of a person finding her place in the world, a big kaiju film, and what essentially becomes a horror movie. And it doesn’t feel wrong. It spins all of those plates, and effortlessly weaves between them. Plus we get two legitimately terrific performances, possibly each actor’s best. Anne Hathaway has had a wide variety of roles, but this is legitimately the most interesting and believable performance that I’ve seen from her, and I absolutely loved her in this.  But the person that I came away most shocked about had to be Jason Sudeikis. I’ve always been a fan of the guy, and the first half of the movie had him exactly in his wheel-house, as a lovable loser. But then the twist happens, and his performance goes into over-drive. I had no idea that Sudeikis had this in him, and it’s a pleasure to see him get as dark and twisted as possible.

Because there’s a lot of darkness in this movie. Which stands to reason, since it’s ostensibly about a woman dealing with her alcoholism and the crushing reality that her stupid actions are killing innocent people. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very funny movie too, but at its heart is a really dark and compelling movie about something that almost everyone can relate to. That keeping your issues bottled up can hurt those around you. In this case things get very literal, with Gloria’s alcoholism and Oscar’s inferiority complex manifesting physical forms that for real hurt people, but that message still comes through loud and clear. Both Gloria and Oscar have legitimate problems that they’re just ignoring instead of confronting. Gloria’s alcoholism and general apathy towards life is slowly destroying everything around her, hurting her friends and family, and she just keeps letting it happen. It’s not until her drunken antics literally kill people that she starts to take stock of her life, and tries to better herself. Which is when Oscar’s issues come up. He’s apparently spent his entire life being bitter, thinking that someone else’s life is better than his, and it’s their fault that his life is boring. He blames everyone for his problems, and becomes an angry and resentful person as a result. And when he doesn’t deal with that, he starts lashing out, hurting people. We all have emotional baggage, and ignoring it leads to nothing but chaos. We end up hurting ourselves and those around us. It’s a very human idea. Which makes it even crazier to see it handled with giant monsters and robots.

Colossal was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo and released by Neon, 2017.

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Reel Talk

Free Fire: Machismo Ruins Everything

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We really seem to be in a golden age for action movies. The last couple of years have been resplendent in truly amazing action flicks, which is fantastic news. We’ve finally made it out of the glut of ugly, CGI-filled, boring action flicks that the first half of the decade seemed to adore, and we’re getting some real masterpieces. And one of the most interesting parts of this new trend is the fact that a lot of these movies are telling very simple, yet compelling, stories. Action movies have never really been overly bothered with plot, really just stringing along scenarios that lead to crazy gunfights, but there’s been a recent surge in actions flicks that are beautifully simple. Mad Max Fury Road is literally just about driving somewhere, then driving back, and yet it was handled with such grace and craft that it became one of the best films of the last decade. And while I wouldn’t necessarily say that the movie I’m talking about today, Free Fire, is in the same league as Fury Road, it’s still a great movie. And it has a splendidly simple premise. It’s literally a feature-length stand-off. Which seems like a rather ridiculous idea. It doesn’t seem sustainable. And yet, this movie proves that assumption wrong. Because this is one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Free Fire is about some criminals meeting up in an abandoned factory to make an arms deal. One one side we have Chris and Frank, to members of the IRA who are journeying to America to buy rifles. Along with them is Frank’s idiot brother in law Steve and his buddy Bernie. They’re there to meet their contacts, Justine and Ord, intermediaries who have planned the whole deal. And once they get inside the factory they meet the arms dealers, the flashy Verne, the stoic Martin, and their two lackies Harry and Gordon. Things are pretty tense right from the get-go, with everyone trying to prove that they’re the alpha-male, the toughest guy in the room. But they manage to keep it civil. That is until Harry and Steve realize they know each other. Turns out just a couple nights ago Steve beat up Harry’s cousin so bad she had to go to the hospital after basically attempting to rape her. Harry had beat the hell out of Steve the previous night, but he’d gotten away. And as soon as the two recognize each other, all hell breaks loose. They begin yelling at each other, causing a riff between the two groups. And it all reaches a fever pitch when Harry shoots Steve. He doesn’t kill him, but it escalates things to the point of no return.

The factory suddenly becomes a battleground, with the IRA folks and Verne’s people fighting against each other, trying to survive, while Justine and Ord get caught in the middle. The Irish want the guns and the dealers want the money, but now there’s enough bad blood that they also want the other side killed. What follows is is some of the most inventive and slap-stick gun-fights that I’ve ever seen. The movie is basically a live-action cartoon, with everyone getting shot multiple times and mainly just complaining about it. A series of coincidences occur during the shootout that potentially could upset the balance of power, such as the realization that there’s a phone in the building that could be used to call reinforcements, Justine and Ord’s rapidly changing allegiances, the appearance of another Irishman, and two hitmen who for a long time seem unaffiliated showing up. But in the end none of these things really pan out, and it’s just a matter of time before the various combatants start being whittled down. None of them are going to get out of this in great shape, and that certainly pans out.

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This movie is a goddamn delight. I’ve only seen one film from director Ben Wheatley before, last year’s High-Rise. And I liked that movie quite a bit, it even showed up on my best of the year list. And this movie is very different than High-Rise. They both show that Ben Wheatley has a serious affection for the aesthetics of the 1970’s, but other than that the movies are night and day. High-Rise was a slow and unnerving examination of class warfare, and Free Fire is an absolutely manic and frenetic action/comedy flick. And I adored it. The action in the film is top-notch, showcasing a cavalcade of ridiculous gun-fights. And that action is held up by across the board fantastic performances. Everyone in this movie is tremendous, handling the ridiculous concept and the comedic chops necessarily to make it all work. This is a tremendously silly movie, and everyone here needs to simultaneously be a credible fighter and comedian. And they all nail it. Hell, the movie even made me enjoy a Sharlto Copley performance, which is no small feat. And he’s certainly not the only one. Everyone in this movie is delightful, especially the three ostensible leads, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, and Cillian Murphy. They all knocked it out of the park, and convinced me that Armie Hammer really needs to be in more movies. And his performance, along with all of the other male actors in the movie, help hammer in an interesting theme that I noticed in the film.

Men are idiots and ruin everything. Especially when they let their balls do their thinking for them, relying on show-boating and machismo. This should have been a simple business transaction. There was money, there as goods, and there was an assumption that these things would be exchanged for each other. But things almost immediately get screwed up when every goddamn man in the movie has to try and show that he’s the toughest. They’re constantly negging each other, tossing off little put-downs to try and show who is on top. And that’s before Steve ruins everything by refusing to just admit that he did something shitty and apologize to defuse the situation. Because once he does that it falls down a slippery slope and reaches the point that none of them can get out alive. All because they’re stupid men, trying to show how tough they are. And that’s really one of the big problems with the world. It’s one of the biggest problems in history. Men being idiots and escalating issues because they want to be big and tough. Sometimes it leads to wars and sometimes it leads to a bunch of idiots dying in an abandoned factory. But it always leads to trouble.

Free Fire was written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, directed by Ben Wheatley, and released by A24, 2017.

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Bat Signal

Issue 267 – “Batman Meets Bat-Mite”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with basically no context. And folks, look who we’re getting to talk about again today. That’s right, everybody’s favorite little imp from another dimension who isn’t Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite. Now, we’ve already discussed Bat-Mite here on the project already, but it just so happens that the issue that my random number generator spat out today is the first appearance of the little twerp. And guess what? They still barely explain who he is, what the extent of his powers are, and if he is in actuality related to Mr. Mxyzptlk at all. At least he’s better than Qwsp. But all that matters is that we have another issue where Batman and Robin are going to be driven to their wits end while dealing with a rambunctious little imp who is going to do everything he can to prank the Dynamic Duo. And you know I’m into that.

The issue starts off with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson rushing down to the Batcave to change into their costumes and begin their nightly patrol. However, when they get down into the cave they find that something is amiss. It’s clear that someone has messed with their equipment, both their criminology gadgets and their utility belts, which obviously is going to startle them. They begin wandering around the Batcave, trying to find if there’s an intruder. And when they finally do come across the person who has messed with their stuff, they’re certainly shocked. Because they run into Bat-Mite, a tiny little man with a giant head who is wearing an ill-fitting Batman costume. Batman and Robin don’t seem overly shocked about the appearance of this little person and are more irritated that he broke in. And things are made even more confusing when Bat-Mite explains that he’s a nigh omnipotent being from another dimension who has gotten obsessed with them to the point that he’s torn a hole in space and time to come to their reality so he can be their pal. And Batman is having none of it.

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Batman doesn’t really have a lot of candor, and basically just refuses Bat-Mite’s offer to help him out. He does give at least a bit of an explanation, saying that people would be confused about the appearance of a magical being. Bat-Mite sullenly agrees with this assessment, and promises not to bother them. Which obviously isn’t going to happen. Because as soon as Bat-Mite agrees to these terms he pretends to return to his reality, but actually just turns invisible and sits atop the Batmobile, ready to go help out on the night’s adventure. And he doesn’t have to wait for long, because as Batman and Robin begin their patrol they make their way to the waterfront and come across a gang getting ready to escape after a heist.

Batman and Robin race after the criminals, eventually crashing into their getaway car. Once that happens the criminals bail out and begin to run across a bridge, and because Batman and Robin have a sense of fair-play, they too hop out of the Batmobile and race after the criminals on foot. Which is when Bat-Mite decides to be a dick. He uses his magical powers to transform the steel of the bridge into rubber, causing the entire bridge to begin wiggling and wavering around, throwing everyone into disarray. Batman quickly realizes what’s going on though, and starts using the attributes of the bridge to bounce towards the criminals and catch them. The criminals are a little confused about what just happened, and Batman has to make up some stone-cold bullshit by saying that the nearby chemical factory made them all hallucinate. The criminals accept that, and after Batman and Robin bring them in to the police they have a talking to with Bat-Mite. They tell him that crime-fighting isn’t for fun, and tell him to leave them alone.

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So yeah, Batman and Robin are incredibly gullible. Because as soon as Bat-Mite “vanishes” he just shows up in the trophy room and awaits Batman and Robin’s next patrol the next day. And the next night the Dynamic Duo get word that a gang are robbing some sort of high-fi convention and race off to help. Bat-Mite accompanies them, and watches Batman and Robin fight a group of criminals who are hiding among giant record players. The criminals quickly give up though, and Bat-Mite grows bored. So he controls a massive album, causing it to scoop the criminals up and fly them away. Batman and Robin realize what’s going on again though, and thinking quick, launch Batman onto the record using a massive tape recorder. Batman stops the criminals, who are baffled about what they just saw. Batman makes up more bullshit and arrests the criminals. And, once again, Batman and Robin scold Bat-Mite, and he promises not to interfere.

Which mean he’s going to do it again. Because Bat-Mite spends the entire next day stealing props from a movie studio, just assuming they’ll come in handy. And they do! Because Bat-Mite overhears Batman and Robin plan a sting on some criminals where they’ll trap them in an empty warehouse. Bat-Mite knows that this sounds boring, so he goes and fills the warehouse with his props, like a Viking ship, a sphinx, and a giant Batman. So that night when the Dynamic Duo and the criminals show up everyone is shocked. The criminals are pretty confused about all of this, but seeing an opening they all pile into the Viking ship, since it’s on wheels, and use it to escape. Bat-Mite is worried that this won’t be good enough, and offers to let Batman and Robin ride the sphinx to victory. But this ends up not working, so Batman has to make an executive decision and starts yelling at Bat-Mite. He tells him that if he allows the criminals to escape he’ll be branded a terrible crime-fighter. So Bat-Mite agrees to help them, and obviously animates the giant Batman into becoming a goddamn kaiju. Batman and Robin hop into Giant Batman’s utility belt and watch as it chases after the criminals and captures them. And with that taken care of Batman and Robin say goodbye to Bat-Mite. For real this time. He agrees to be a better imp, and returns to his dimension. For now.

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Let me be real with you folks. I love me some Bat-Mite. He’s a delightfully insane character, even by Silver Age standards, and I’m always onboard to see him pop into an issue of Detective Comics. And today’s issue, his introduction to the DC Universe, really hammers in an interesting point. Batman is so goddamn lucky that Bat-Mite is a fan of his. I know that Mr. Mxyzptlk is often portrayed as something of a trickster, just bothering Superman, but he’s basically omnipotent, and could cause some serious issues for Superman. And Superman is essentially a god. Batman’s just a dude. If Bat-Mite was more malevolent he could utterly dominate Gotham City. But instead Bat-Mite is the universes biggest Batman fan, and instead focuses all of his power and attention on loving Batman, and trying to give him better adventures. Which is problematic in its own right, but at least somewhat less deadly for Batman. Bat-Mite is just the ultimate fan, basically pitching story ideas to Batman on Twitter. And Batman just has to grit his teeth and accept it, knowing that if he angers Bat-Mite, he could get turned into a duck or some nonsense. The issue itself is just kind of fine. It’s a tad repetitive, and just does the same gimmick three times. But the heart of the issue is Bat-Mite, and he’s in fine form here, showing that the character has potential for decades to come.

“Batman Meets Bat-Mite” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1959.

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Apparently Improv was not one of the skills Batman has mastered
Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E18 – Father Knows Worst

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Well, we’ve done it. We’ve made it through another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And it was kind of a rough one. Lots of episodes that have better versions of themselves from previous seasons. But we get to end the week on an episode that’s certainly unique. Because I sure don’t think we’ve seen saunas and helicopter parenting before.

Things start off with Homer and the kids going to some sort of carnival on a boardwalk. But apparently in the world of the Simpsons some truth in advertising law had been passed, so the carnival barkers are having to explain how horrible the food is for you and how unlikely they are to win some prizes. Which is a solid gag. We also get to see Homer heckle a unicycle juggler before tossing the kids into the mix, giving him more of a challenge.

Meanwhile, back at home Marge is having “fun” by replacing their hot water heater. Neat! However, while she’s cleaning up the area around the heater in the basement she makes a shocking discovery. There’s a secret door in their basement. Not that one that had the jerky lab from last season though, no, this time it’s a secret sauna that’s apparently been in their house the whole time. Marge turns it on, and of course plans to tell Homer and the kids about it. Until she realizes that if she invites Homer she’ll eventually have to deal with a pervy Moe. She then decides to keep the sauna her little secret.

Back at the carnival though, disaster is about to strike. Because while Homer’s messing with a guy juggling fire, he ends up sticking a torch into his mouth, burning his tongue horribly. Homer’s then raced to the hospital, and finds that he’s going to have to have a tongue cast for a while so it can heal. But this isn’t just going to be a ripoff of the episode where his jaw is wired shut, and we immediately cut to several weeks later when he’s getting his tongue cast removed. But things aren’t fine.

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Because when Homer grabs a lollipop as a reward for his cast he finds something horrible. His taste buds are now hyper-sensitive, and all food is too strong for him to handle. Dr. Hibbert says that this should be only temporary, but until they’re fixed he’s going to have to eat the blandest foods possible. So Homer begins his quest to find that food, and finally comes across it with Lisa’s help. Elementary School cafeteria mac and cheese.

Apparently all the food from the cafeteria is as bland as possible, so Homer makes an executive decision. He’s going to start eating all of his meals at the cafeteria. Which kind of cramps Bart’s style, especially when Homer realizes he didn’t bring any money, and has to work with Lunchlady Doris to afford his terrible food. Bart is obviously mortified by this development, and tries to avoid Homer as much as possible.

And because Bart won’t sit with Homer during lunch, he ends up having to sit with some weird kid named Noah whose mother is also eating at the school. But, as Homer learns, she’s not there for the food. She’s there to make Noah’s life horrible, and ensure that he’s a perfect student who doesn’t get distracted by silly things like friends or fun. Homer thinks that this is pretty ridiculous. Until she points out that Bart is an idiot and Lisa has no friends, which will therefore make it so they will never succeed as adults.

This really gets to Homer, and he decides to do something horrible. He’s going to become a helicopter parent like that horrible lady. Homer of course runs this proposal by Marge, but she’s too blessed out on the saunas to bring logic to the table, so Homer starts spending all of his days at the Elementary School, trying to meddle in Bart and Lisa’s lives. And it turns out he’s not alone, because there’s a shitload of terrible parents stalking their children at the school.

It seems pretty mundane at first, but then Homer makes a discovery. Bart’s class is having a competition of make balsa wood models of famous buildings, and Homer decides that Bart needs to do the Washington Monument. And, since Mrs. Krabappel is impressed by Bart’s choice, Homer decides he’s a successful helicopter parent. Which results in him moving onto his next project, making Lisa popular. This of course takes the form of Homer giving her a book on cliques and how to neg people into wanting your approval. Great job Homer.

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But he can’t just get these balls in motion, he has to make sure they pass the finish line. So Homer drags Bart to a hobby shop to get the wood for the model. But while they’re there Principal Skinner mocks their choice of the Washington Monument, since it’s easy. This then spurs Homer onto choosing a new building. He asks the clerk for the hardest one, and he recommends Westminster Abbey. So they buy the kit and all of the balsa wood and head home to build it. And once that’s taken care of he hosts a cellphone decorating party with all the popular girls at school, helping Lisa out.

However, that night Homer runs into an issue. Westminster Abbey is way too hard. Homer of course decides to take over for Bart, and begins building it himself. However, this takes the whole damn night, and he does a terrible job. Especially when Homer falls asleep during the middle and gets a dream where he’s visited by the ghosts of several ghosts buried at the Abbey, like Chaucer and Oscar Wilde. They all tell Homer that being a helicopter parent is a terrible idea, and that he should stop doing it.

Homer ends up waking up from the dream, and finds that he’s destroyed what little he’s done of the Westminster Abbey model. So he begins rapidly trying to put it back together, and does a terrible job. However, the next day at the competition Homer finds something shocking. Because Bart’s model looks so terrible it’s the only one that Chalmers actually believes was made by a student. He disqualifies all of the other models made by helicopter parents and makes Bart the winner.

However, Bart can’t lie, so he tells the crowd of students the truth, and even gives a speech about how terrible helicopter parents should be. Nobody seems to listen though, and Homer moves on to checking out Lisa’s progress. Which actually has gone good. She’s popular now, but she hates it. She tells Homer that she doesn’t want to be popular anymore, and he admits that this was a failed experiment. So Homer returns to being a lackluster father, and goes home to tell Marge all about it. But, luckily, she’s able to cheer him up by finally telling him about the sauna, making everything okay.

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This is certainly an interesting episode about a topic that really bugs me. Parents who participate in that kind of parenting, the helicopter parent style, are just a total and complete bummer, and will almost certainly raise children who have mental breakdowns as adults. Part of being a child is enjoying life. Because while school is important, education isn’t the sole focus. It’s also important for kids to learn how to socialize. It’s kind of the same problem I have with parents who insist their kids go to a community college the first two years and live at home to save money. Because the point of your first two years isn’t really to learn anything academic, it’s to learn how to be an adult and live on your own. And having parents who try to control their lives and make their childhoods as sterile and academic as possible completely misses the point of life. Homer forces his children to do things they don’t want to do so that they’ll be “normal.” And it blows up in his face. Because it turns out that they already knew who they were. Even though Homer’s meddling worked, Bart is a good enough person to tell the truth. And even though Homer’s meddling worked, Lisa knows who she is and tells him that despite popularity she can’t handle how shallow they are, and wants friends who challenge her. Homer and Marge are actually really good parents, and when they let their kids kind of find themselves on their own, they succeeded. They’re both becoming good people, and they did that because they were allowed to grow without being stifled by pressure. Which is a great lesson for Homer to learn.

Take Away: Don’t helicopter parent your kid. Let them lives their lives, make mistakes, and learn who they are.

 

“Father Knows Best” was written by Rob LaZebnik and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2009.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S20 E17 – The Good, the Sad and the Drugly

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This was kind of a weird week for Lifetime of Simpsons. Basically every episode has played with a topic that’s been done better in previous episodes. And today is no different. Because today we’re treated to Bart having a crush and his first girlfriend. Something we’ve dealt with before. Hell, Bart’s almost gotten married on two separate occasions in the last couple seasons. So just dating isn’t exactly going to be too surprising. But, let’s see if it worked out for them.

Things start off with Bart and Milhouse hanging around the Springfield Elementary School, praising themselves for their latest prank. And it’s a doozey. Because they’ve apparently gotten to the school before everyone else, and have painstakingly traveled through the school, unscrewing every single screw in the building. I have no idea how long this must have taken, but Bar and Milhouse are certainly masters at committing to their bits.

So the boys stand by and watch as the students and teachers march into the school, unaware that the whole damn school is about to fall apart. Which it promptly does. Lockers, desks, doors, and basically everything else in the school, just falls to pieces, and everyone begins panicking. And, in typical Simpsons fashion the boys are caught pretty quickly. Well, not all the boys. Just Milhouse, who seems more than happy to take the blame for this prank, and let Bart get off easy.

Skinner and Chalmers do everything they can to push Milhouse into telling them who his accomplice is, despite the fact that it’s always Bart. But, shockingly, Milhouse remains resolute and doesn’t rat out Bart, which earns him a suspension. Bart starts to feel guilty that Milhouse took the heat for him, and heads over to Milhouse’s house after school, thanking him for that solid favor. He also promises to visit Milhouse every day, hoping that will make his suspension easier.

And as soon as that trip’s over we see Bart get picked up by Homer, and taken to the Retirement Castle. Apparently Bart is just going to have to sit with Grandpa while Homer sleeps in the car. Bart just kind of awkwardly stands around with Grandpa in the day-room, when something interesting happens. Some little girl named Jenny who routinely visits the elderly arrives, and Bart instantly falls for her. Despite the fact that she’s a fifth-grader, and voluntarily comes to the Retirement Castle to spend time with old people, which Bart can’t imagine isn’t punishment.

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Meanwhile, we’re introduced to our bonkers little B-Plot by establishing that Lisa has a new school project for social studies. She’s supposed to write an essay about what Springfield will be like in fifty years. So she of course starts searching on the internet for what the world will likely be like in half a century, and things don’t look good. She finds article after article about climate change, animal extinctions, war, petulance, and basically all sorts of Apocalyptic harbingers. Which really starts to bum Lisa out.

But before we see how that shakes out we follow Bart to school, who can’t get Jenny out of his head. He finds her on the playground, and decides to go talk to her, despite the fact that they’re so incredibly different. Plus, he gets some terrible advice from Nelson, who tells him that he needs to be mean to Jenny to show her that he’s into her. But Bart ignores that advice, and actually just chats with Jenny, trying to be decent. And it works out for him, because the two make plans for a date.

But hey, how’s Lisa doing? Well, she arrives to school, ready to give her presentation, and she does not look good. She quietly waits while the other kids give their innocuous reports, before storming up to the front of the class, looking bedraggled, and starts ranting and raving to the kids about how hope is futile, and the world is doomed. Which of course means Lisa’s going to be reported to Skinner, and he’s going to recommend to Homer and Marge that Lisa see a childhood psychologist. Which is probably a good call.

We then cut to Bart and Jenny, ready to go on their little date that weekend. They head to a park, and begin riding around in a canoe on a lake, chatting and getting to know each other. And there’s plenty of red flags on Jenny, who seems to be a devout Christian and who is always talking about helping people. Which doesn’t really seem like Bart’s speed. But he’s desperate to impress Jenny, and pretends that he’s a good kid. He even goes and gets beat up by the bullies in exchange for them to stop picking on some ducklings, hoping that this will earn him more brownie points.

At the same time though Lisa is going to her first psychologist appointment. And it doesn’t seem that involved, because the psychologist basically just immediately writes her a script for a drug called Ignoreitall, which will help her repress the evils of the world. But they decide to give it a shot, and Lisa ends up taking some drugs. And they work. Mostly. When Lisa’s on the drug she’s happy, everything bad in the world is covered in smiley faces, and she’s generally able to drift through life without noticing anything bad.

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And it isn’t just Lisa who starts acting differently, because now that Bart is trying to impress Jenny he begins acting like how he thinks a good kid should. And Marge is loving it. Especially when Bart says that Jenny will be coming over to dinner, which means Bart’s going to keep being a good kid. The rest of the family? Not so much. She’s confused at Homer’s lack of attention and how utterly drugged up Lisa is. Marge seems nice though, and they have a mostly fine evening.

Well, until the doorbell rings in the middle of the meal. Bart gets up to see who could possibly at the door, and finds it to be someone surprising. Milhouse. Apparently Milhouse is no longer on suspension, but he’s plenty pissed. Because it turns out once Bart met Jenny he broke his promise and never came to visit Milhouse. And when Milhouse finds out that the reason Bart bailed on him is over a girl, he decides to get some revenge. Especially when he learns that Jenny thinks that Bart is a good kid.

We then cut over to a bake sale at the church, which Jenny has convinced Bart to participate in. Bart’s becoming terrified that Jenny will learn the truth about him, which gets worse when Milhouse shows up and starts slyly threatening Bart. And it all really starts to bother Bart, who becomes terrified that Jenny will immediately dump him when she realizes that he’s not some pious loser like the guy she apparently wants.

Oh, and it’s time to finish the Lisa plot. Because she’s become hardcore addicted to the Ignoreitall, and is basically just drifting through life, being doped to the gills and ignoring everything bad. Which of course leads to Maggie trying to convince Lisa to stick her tongue in a movie fan. For some reason. Marge notices this at the last minute though, and stops it from happening, while also deciding to get Lisa off the drug so she can go back to normal.

Anyway, Bart starts becoming paranoid, terrified that Milhouse will appear at some moment and spoil his relationship, so he starts trying to hide with Jenny at places that Milhouse can’t go. Like the pier, where he gets nosebleeds. But Milhouse deals with the bleed, and shows up at the pier, ready to tell Jenny the truth. And when he does, she immediately dumps Bart. Just like he was worried about!

So Bart goes home, heartbroken and miserable, and ready to get advice from Lisa. She tells Bart that he can’t wallow in despair, and that he should just go say how he feels. Bart agrees, and surprisingly heads over to Milhouse’s house to apologize for being a shitty friend. They patch things up, and hatch their latest prank on the school, hiring a zamboni to make the floors too slippery to walk on. And things are back to the natural order.

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This episode is just kind of fine. There’s nothing that special about it though. We’ve seen several episodes about how hard it is to maintain friendships when a lady is introduced. Sometimes it’s been Milhouse with the girlfriend, and sometimes it’s been Bart, but the outcome is always the same. Their friendship gets strained, the girl dumps them, and they get back together to be friends. And this one really did nothing new with that formula. We’ve seen this episode, but with better jokes and more interesting premises. The Lisa stuff was kind of funny, and looked at how weird it is that we over-medicate kids, but it’s that main plot that drags the episode down. There’s not really anything wrong with it, it’s just that we’ve seen it before.

Take Away: Don’t change yourself for a romantic partner.

 

“The Good, the Sad and the Drugly” was written by Marc Wilmore and directed by Rob Oliver, 2009.

 

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