Page Turners

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is Interesting But Flawed

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I’ve mentioned on the site before, but I have a real fond place in my heart for the writers of Cracked. When I was in high school the site was kind of everything I loved. The site’s blend of information and comedy was exactly what I was into, and I adored learning things from the site. So of course I’ve been really excited to see some of the early writers from the site branch out and try their hands at novels. And, for the most part, they’ve had great success. These writers have honed their comedic chops, and story-telling abilities on Cracked and then have created some really inventive and hilarious novels. And David Wong is no exception. His writing on Cracked, and his appearances on the Cracked podcast, are often my favorite additions to the community, and I was really enamored with his first novel, John Dies at the End. That book was a lot of fun, and I really need to get around to reading its sequel one of these days. But, instead of checking out that book, I decided to read his latest one, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, after hearing it get talked about on one of the podcasts that he was on. And, well, it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

The novel takes place in the not too distant future, where technology has progressed a bit from where we are, and society has regressed. People have self-driving cars, holographic phones, and cameras hidden on their persons that are constantly transmitting footage of their actions to the public. And yet, all of humanities worst tendencies here on the internet in the current day seem to have been amplified tenfold, creating a society of aloof sociopaths. But the actual plot of the novel follows a young woman named Zoey Ashe who lives with her mother in a trailer park in Colorado. She has a sad, unfulfilling life until something insane happens. She’s attacked by some lunatic with metal jaws who seems dead-set on killing her. And the reason why is pretty shocking. Turns out that that Zoey’s dad, who she just thought was a deadbeat con-artist, is actually ridiculously wealthy, and basically runs this ridiculous town in Utah called Tabula Rasa that caters to rich lunatics. Oh, and he’s just died, leaving everything to Zoey. But Zoey isn’t going to be on her own in this, because Arthur’s gang, the Suits, are there to protect her. At least until they get what they need from her. Because they’re baffled about why Arthur chose the daughter that he barely knew and not one of them.

So Zoey comes to Tabula Rasa to be with the Suits, and their constant attempts for her to give them her inheritance. They’re Will the brains of the operation, Andre the funny one, Budd the cowboy, and Echo the competent one. And for a while it just seems to be Zoey getting used to the ridiculous extravagance of Tabula Rase while trying to get out of there as fast as possible. But a wrinkle to that plan arrives in the form of the novel’s villain, Molech. Molech is a faux alpha-male douche bag who has gotten his hands on some cutting edge technology that essentially gives him superpowers. However, there’s a flaw with the technology that can only be fixed with some programming that turns out to be Zoey’s real inheritance. Arthur was apparently investigating this technology, tying to keep it out of the hands of criminals, and has earned the ire of Molech and his gang of idiot bros. And the rest of the novel is just a series of skirmishes between the Suits and Molech’s gang. Zoey and the Suits start to bond now that they have a common foe, and Molech and his gang get more and more violent, trying to escalate their war and get the abilities to become unstoppable.

I really wanted to like this book. I love a lot of the concepts in it, and I’m usually a huge sucker for humorous dystopias. But there was something that just rubbed me the wrong way, almost the entire time. And I think one of the biggest issues was that the humor just didn’t work for me. Typically Wong’s humor is more subtle and in my wheelhouse, but there was just a sense of middle-school humor that hung over the novel. But even beyond that, the structure of the book was pretty lacking. It developed a weird formula about halfway through, and just kept repeating itself at that point. We’d see the Suits and Zoey come up with a plan, try it, fail, go back to Arthur’s mansion, come up with a new plan, rinse, repeat. It just got a little tedious, having the exact same things happen again and again. Which is a bummer, because there were some great ideas in the book. The setting of Tabula Rasa, with it’s insane opulence and foundation of basically just being a world where straight white dudes could do whatever they wanted with no repercussions, was an intriguing one, and rife with satiric potential. The novel also had some really interesting perspectives on internet culture, and the way human act when given anonymity, which I’m sure is something that Wong is very familiar with being a writer on the internet. But all of that felt squandered thanks to the meandering plot and the juvenile humor that the novel contained. Which was pretty disappointing. But hopefully this was just a bit of a fluke, and Wong will get his mojo back for his next novel, because he really does seem to be a better writer than what we got from this story, at least to me.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits was written by David Wong, 2015.

Bat Signal

Issue 243 – “Batman the Giant!”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back for the last Bat Signal of 2016, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics. As always, I just used a random number generator to find what issue I was going to pull today, and it just so happened that I was lucky enough to pull an absolutely fabulous issue. I was hoping that I was going to get to end the year with a fun and goofy issue of Detective Comics, and we sure got that. I mean, just check out that cover. I know that some of the issues from the fifties and earlier can be a little misleading, and I’ve already covered an issue that seemed to taunt me with the possibility of a giant Batman destroying Gotham. But unlike that issue, this isn’t a bait and switch. We legitimately get to see a gigantic Batman. But, honestly? Things get so much crazier in this issue that you can even imagine. That’s enough preamble though, let’s dive on into some glorious Silver Age nonsense.

Things start off with Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon,  and some random cops joining a scientist called Dr. Greggson in his laboratory. They’re there to witness his latest invention, which he believes will have important ramifications to the criminal world of Gotham, and thus they should be aware. Dr. Greggson has created two devices which use “cosmic electricity” to either expand or contract matter. He’s called them the Maximizer and the Minimizer, and he demonstrates their power by taking Commissioner Gordon’ diamond ring and turning the diamond into the size of a basketball. Which really blows everyone’s mind. So much so that they don’t notice a criminal named Jay Vanney come in. Vanney has apparently heard of the inventions, and he’s here to steal it. Which he does quite easily. But Batman waits until Vanney has grabbed the Minimizer before lunging at the criminal and grappling with him. Unfortunately as Batman is tussling with Vanney, the Maximizer gets turned on, and bathes Batman with the energy. And in the confusion caused by Batman getting hit with the Maximizer Vanney is able to slip away. Which seems pretty easy, because Batman and the other people in the room are having to deal with the fact that Batman is started to grow at a rapid rate.

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Batman doesn’t want to wait for explanations though, so he just starts chasing after Vanney, hoping to catch the criminal. However Batman doesn’t appear to be noticing the fact that he just keeps growing, at least until he follows Vanney into a subway station, and ends up becoming too large to fit in the cramped confines. So he drags himself out of the station, and ends up stabilizing at around 30 feet tall, which isn’t exactly helpful. Robin catches up with him, and the two go back to Dr. Greggson, asking him to fix Batman. Which he can’t do. Apparently his inventions run on some exotic material, and he doesn’t have enough to make another Minimizer. So he gives Batman the Maximizer and the giant diamond they made, and wishes him the best in his endeavors

So Batman and Robin begin heading back home to Wayne Manor, doing their best to avoid the massive crowds that are gathering to gawk at the giant Caped Crusader. Commissioner Gordon even has to get a fleet of fire trucks to follow Batman around so that they can break up the crowds of people. But after he gets out of Gotham everything seems to be okay, and they make their way back to the Batcave. Which Batman is luckily able to get into by crawling down the path that the Batmobile usually takes. And once inside he’s able to sit in the main hangar of the Batcave while gorging on a pile of food that Alfred brings him.

Robin then talks with Batman, and tells him that they need to figure out how to shrink Batman down as soon as possible, otherwise people will realize that Bruce Wayne hasn’t been seen for as long as Batman’s been giant, and someone will piece it together. But they also agree that Batman shouldn’t be running around town crushing people, so Robin heads out on his own to find Vanney. However, almost as soon as Robin leaves Batman gets a notification that the Bat Signal has been turned on, and he decides to leave the cave and head downtown to figure out what’s going on. Gordon is a little peeved that Batman came, endangering the citizen of Gotham, but he still lets him track down a group of criminals who are trying to escape Gotham by yacht, letting him chase after the. But Batman knows that this isn’t going to help in the long run, so he decides to go to the Gotham Bridge and stand atop it like the goddamn Colossus of Rhodes, waiting for Vanney to try and flee the city.

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Batman continues to just stand there, looking at all the cars that pass below him until he recognizes Vanney’s car. And Vanney recognizes him too! As soon as he sees the giant Batman he peels out and tries to drive away as fast as he can. So Batman begins chasing after Vanney, until his massive weight causes the bridge to start falling apart, which is when Batman decides that it’s not worth it. He stops chasing Vanney, and has a chat with Commissioner Gordon, who politely asks Batman to leave Gotham City and not come back until he’s no longer gigantic. So Batman sadly walks out of Gotham, back to the Batcave where he can plan his next move.

Batman and Robin meet down in the Batcave for a while, and end up brainstorming an idea. They end up deciding that it’s no use trying to track down Vanney, and instead figure that they should create a trap with the Maximizer to draw him out of hiding. And that’s where things get goofy. Because we next see Batman hammering out some sheet of steel before heading out to the fields outside Gotham. He just stand there, looming menacingly for a while, until Vanney notices him and decides to do something insane. He gets a little biplane, and flies at Batman, hoping to pull a King Kong and shoot the giant from the plane and then steal the Maximizer off his corpse. And it seems to go really well. He shoots Batman a whole bunch, and the Caped Crusader collapses into a giant heap. But when Vanney comes down to loot the corpse, he notices the steel shining through Batman’s costume, and realizes that Batman’s made himself bullet-proof.

So Vanney tries to run away, only to have Batman do the only thing he can, and blast Vanney with the Maximizer too, so that they’re both gigantic and cumbersome. And thus begins a straight-up Kaiju fight in the middle of this issue of Detective Comics. The two begin slugging it out, while Vanney begins to gain the upper hand. Mainly due to the fact that Batman is covered in a suit of steel, and isn’t exactly graceful. Robin then comes to the rescue, barreling down on the two giant in the Batmobile. But Batman doesn’t want Vanney to crush Robin, so he rolls that giant diamond from earlier like a bowling ball, distracting the thug. And when that’s accomplished Batman just jumps on Vanney, holding him down while Robin is able to get his hands on the Minimizer and shrink both of them back down to normal size. So Vanney is arrested, and Dr. Greggson reveals that the continued use of the machines has worn out their charges, and are thus useless. So Batman and Robin decide to take the decides and stick them in their trophy room, instead of letting Dr. Greggson maybe try to find an alternative power source.

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I absolutely adored this issue. Right off the bat I realized that this issue wasn’t teasing me with the prospect of giant Batman, and it delivered. I’ve obtained a serious soft-spot for goofy old issues of Detective Comics where it’s primarily just Batman and Robin on the track of some random gangster as they chase him around Gotham, always being one step behind. And this issue took that trope and added a truly ridiculous gimmick. The idea of Batman becoming so big that he’s a safety hazard, and has to stay outside of Gotham’s city limits is so crazy and hilarious, and I loved every second of it. But then things get even crazier when Vanney starts to attack Batman with a plane, leading to a brawl between two gigantic monsters. It’s just so crazy and wonderful. There’s not a whole lot of detection going on in this issue, but the sheer absurdity of it more than makes up for that minor defect.

“Batman the Giant!” was written by Edmond Hamilton, penciled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Charles Paris, 1957.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S17 E08 – The Italian Bob

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Hey everybody, and welcome to our last installment of Lifetime of Simpsons for the year. And what better way to end 2016 than with this super weird little hodgepodge of an episode. Because we somehow have been given a combination of a Sideshow Bob episode and a vacation episode. Which you wouldn’t think would work that well, and…it kind of doesn’t, but it’s better than I would have thought!

The episode starts off with the fourth graders sitting around in class being bored, until Willie brings in a television for them to watch, which makes them super excited. However that excitement quickly falls when it turns out it’s some video from PBS called Diversity Tales that’s all about acceptance and tolerance of other cultures. And since they’re children, they aren’t really down with that, and they just kind of hate it that whole time.

Luckily though, when they get bored they have a good choice of alternative amusement. Because it just so happens that Mr. Burns’ antique car has broken down in front of the school, right outside their room. So the kids clamber over to the window and start making fun of Burn while he tries to repair his car. And, shockingly, the taunts of the children really get to Mr. Burns, and he decides that he needs to buy a new car instead of just fixing his antique.

So the next day Burns walks into Homer’s office while he’s goofing off to give him the good news. Burns has bought some fancy and monstrously expensive Italian sports car, and for some reason he wants Homer and his family to travel to Italy to pick up the car. This is barely explained, but I guess they just needed a reason for them to go to Italy. Which is weird, since yesterday’s episode ended with Lisa getting a trip to Rome, but whatever, I’m not writing these things.

We then cut right over to Italy where the family are getting off of a plane and picking up their luggage. Lisa’s intending to pretend to be Canadian, which is a solid plan for Americans, but that’s a little ruined when Homer starts literally waving a flag around. But none of that really matters because the family head straight to the factory to pick up the car, which goes off without a hitch. So, end of episode I guess, nothing ridiculous to see here!

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Well, that is until a surprising thing happens. Marge recommends that the family stick around in Italy and goof off in Mr. Burns’ car. Yep, Marge has the idea, not Homer. But the family are super down with the plan, so the immediately start hitting the sights. The go check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a McDonalds that sells alcohol, and Pompeii. You know, all the important places to see when you’re in Italy.

But disaster strikes when they’re driving down an Italian highway and get into a minor accident with some sort of cheese truck. Homer tries to weave around a bunch of giant wheels of cheese, but finally gets smashed with one particularly huge wheel of cheese hits the hood of the car, totaling it. So the Simpsons are now stranded in the middle of nowhere in Italy with a broken sports car. Although they do find a nearby village called Salsiccia, and they decide to see if they have a mechanic who would be able to fix their car.

Unfortunately they don’t, since it’s such a little town. Most of the people they talk to don’t even speak English. But apparently their new mayor does, so they tell the Simpsons to go speak with the mayor and see if he can help. So the Simpsons head into the mayoral mansion, and walk right into the mayor’s office. Which is when they get the biggest surprise of their whole trip. The mayor of this random little town in Italy is non other than Sideshow Bob.

Both the Simpsons and Bob are completely shocked to see one another, and no one really knows how to process it. So, I guess since they have nothing better to do, Bob decides to tell them his story. Turns out after the last time he failed to kill Bart he decided to change his life, and go somewhere new for a fresh start. And after a couple failed attempts he ends up in Tuscany, and finds his way to Salsiccia. And when he gets there, people are not fond of him. That is until the wine harvest begins, and his ridiculously large feet come in handy to stomp the grapes.

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And apparently one thing led to another and Bob ended up their mayor. And not only that, he ended up meeting a woman named Francesca and they’ve gotten married and had a little baby named Gino. So when Francesca comes in to welcome these strangers from America, things get a little awkward. Especially because it turns out Bob has never told his family about his true past, so Bob has to ask the Simpsons for a solid, and pretend that he’s a normal dude.

So, against their instincts, they decide to pretend that Bob isn’t an attempted killer, in exchange for fixing their car. So the Simpsons get to spend a nice day in the town, seeing what life’s like for these villagers while Bob works on their car. And at the end of the night the town all gets together for a big dinner to send the Simpson’s off, having succeeded in keeping Bob’s secret and not letting anyone learn the truth about him.

That is until they decide to give the children wine. Bart seems to be able to handle his liquor pretty well, but Lisa quickly becomes a mess. So as the dinner progresses Lisa becomes more and more chatty until she finally spills the beans, and tells the town that their mayor is a wanted criminal. And things turn ugly fast. The town immediately turns on Bob, and he snaps, getting ready to kill the Simpsons, and swears a vendetta.

However, Bob did a good job fixing Mr. Burns’ car, so the family are able to escape the town in it. Unfortunately it turns out that Francesca and Gino aren’t that bothered by Bob’s criminal past, and the agree to help him destroy the Simpsons. So it’s the Terwilliger’s versus the Simpsons in a race through the countryside of Rome. And things don’t look good for the Simpsons. Until fortune smiles on them in the dumbest way.

Apparently Krusty is in Rome too, performing the opera Pagliacci for some reason. So the family figure that if they can get to Krusty he’ll help them out and get them back to Springfield. Which he obviously does. They just have to wait until his show is over, so he gets them some costumes and makes them background actors in the performance. Which is terrible. Krusty clearly didn’t learn his lines, and just mainly sings about Rice Crispies.

Which earns the ire of Bob, who is watching in the stands. It pisses him off so much that he decides to put on the Pagliacci makeup himself and replace Krusty in the middle of his big song doing a much better job. And while he’s stealing the show Francesca and Gino show up to kill the Simpsons. But they manage to escape and flee the show just in time to be rescued by Krusty, and brought back to Springfield. And the Terwilligers get to live another day, swearing a vendetta on the Simpsons for life.

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This episode is alright I suppose. But it’s kind of a weird experience. I’m on record as being a huge fan of Sideshow Bob episodes, and also not being a fan of vacation episodes that largely serve as excuses for the Simpson’s to wander around and mock other people’s cultures. And you wouldn’t think that these two types of episodes would mesh that well. And, honestly, they kind of don’t. This isn’t really a typical Sideshow Bob episode because there’s no mystery, and it’s not a typical vacation episode because they only spend like one act messing around with landmarks. It’s just kind of a nothing episode. There’s not really anything to like in it, and there’s not anything to hate. Which I suppose makes for a pretty lackluster episode the end the year on, but that’s how things shake out. Maybe we’ll have better stuff next year. Fingers crossed!

Take Away: Don’t let children get drunk, they’ll tell all of your secrets.

“The Italian Bob” was written by John Frink and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2005.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S17 E07 – The Last of the Red Hat Mamas

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We seem to be in the era of the show that I dipped out of. The last couple episodes have been familiar to me, but in a way that I think I maybe saw them when they first aired, and then never again. And today may be an episode that I never actually saw. But it’s also possible that it’s just so damned dull that I forgot it, because even though I only watched the episode a couple days ago I had virtually no memory of it when writing this article and resorted to my notes like crazy. So let’s talk about this thrilling episode!

Things start off with basically every family in town eagerly waiting to get into Mayor Quimby’s estate for an Easter Egg Hunt. And it seems pretty intense, having the entire estate covered with eggs and even having some sort of rabbit referee. Whom Homer runs afoul of almost immediately when he starts helping Maggie steal eggs from other kids who were faster than her. But, I think we all could have assumed Homer was going to get into a fistfight with someone at an event like this.

Meanwhile, a group of the mothers are getting a private tour of the mayor’s mansion from Quimby’s long-suffering wife. Marge actually seems to be getting along with the other mothers, and having a good time, despite how sketchy the mayoral mansion is thanks to all of Quimby’s sexual escapades. But things get awkward when the women are going to go get tea together and Homer bursts into a window, still fighting that damned referee, and embarrassing everyone to the point that Mrs. Quimby cancels the tea.

And Marge is super pissed. She’s mad that Homer embarrassed her, but mostly mad that she was making friends with women and he ruined it. She doesn’t really have many friends, and Homer always scares potential friends off. So, Homer decides that the logical thing for him to do is start scouring the town to find Marge a suitable friend. And after a lot of creeping on random women in the town, his best applicant appears to be the Crazy Cat Lady, who just throws cats at Marge.

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Oh, and let’s get the B-Plot going while we’re at it. Apparently even though it was just established as Easter, Lisa is getting ready to plan her summer vacation, and she finds a flier at the school for a summer abroad in Rome. So she takes the flier and tries to get Skinner to pick her for the program. Because it’s something the school pays for? I don’t know, the important thing is that Lisa needs to be fluent in Italian to be considered, so she just lies and says she is in the hopes that she can fake it by the time that she needs to prove it to Skinner in a couple weeks.

While Lisa begins trying to teach herself Italian, things are pretty rough for Marge too. She wasn’t thrilled with the Cat Lady as a potential friend, and begins wandering the town in a funk. Which is quickly pushed aside when she has a chance encounter with a woman named Tammy, who makes quick friends with Marge. Tammy is a loud lady whose a member of a club called the Cherry Red Tomatoes, which seems to be a club for sad older ladies, all of whom wear red hats. Which I believe it based on a real thing.

Tammy invites Marge to join her and the rest of the Tomatoes to a Mexican restaurant to have margaritas and complain about their husbands, and she ends up having a great time. And that night when she gets home she’s been completely lifted from her funk, and starts to hang out with the Tomatoes more and more, doing all their crazy activities. Like sky-diving! And after a montage of bonding, we see them formally invite Marge to join the group, and give her a red hat.

Before we talk about the Tomatoes and what they’re up to though, we should check-in on the B-Plot. Because it turns out learning a foreign language by yourself is tough, so Lisa signs up to get a tutor. And shockingly, the tutor ends up being Milhouse. Apparently Milhouse’s family comes from Italy, and he spent a lot of time with his abusive grandmother in Italy who hammered the language into him. So, despite her worries about Milhouse being her teacher, she agrees to being taught.

And he’s actually a pretty great tutor. He begins teaching her all about Italian, and even takes her on a trip to Springfield’s Little Italy, where he’s apparently a badass. They race around town, riding Vespa’s, and having a good time, until Lisa actually starts to develop a bit of a crush on Milhouse. But that’s quickly quashed when he starts acting like a tool, and breaks her heart, causing her to scream at him in Italian, proving that he was actually a decent teacher.

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Anyway, back to Marge. Things aren’t great. Because as soon as she’d inducted into the Tomatoes, she learns about their “fundraising” plan for the year. They’re going to steal a couple priceless Faberge Eggs from Mr. Burns, after he reneged on a donation to a Children’s Hospital. They’ve even gone so far as to have plans drawn up, and the heist is ready to go down in just a couple days. And Marge is expected to participate.

So the night of the heist arrives, despite Marge’s worries about them, and she heads out to assist in the theft. And when she heads out, Homer notices that she was acting suspicious and starts snooping in her Tomatoes folder. Which is when he stumbles upon the heist plans, and freaks the hell out, running off to stop her before she does something stupid. But Marge is apparently much quicker than Homer, because she’s already at Burns’ and has already snuck through a vent and opened the gate so that the theft can commence.

The Tomatoes then easily get into Mr. Burns’ vault, and steal all the eggs. But as they’re leaving they run into Homer, who raced over to stop them. And while racing over he picked up the police, who followed him right to the crime. So the Tomatoes freak out and try to flee, only to be caught by Mr. Burns. Burns threatens them at first, but decides that he’ll let them go if they just give him the Eggs back, mainly because they’re just “simple women,” and Mr. Burns is a misogynist. So they give the Eggs back, and get to leave. And as soon as they’re off his property, Marge reveals that she had one of the Eggs hidden in her hair, so they still got one! Which leads to Tammy taking the Egg and kicking Marge out of the Tomatoes for some reason. So…no friends for Marge I guess. Everything goes back to normal.

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I don’t know what it is about this episode, but it just does absolutely nothing for me. The idea at the core of the episode is actually pretty great. Marge really doesn’t have many friends, and I think the idea of her getting lonely and trying to find some friends is a really realistic and relatable idea. And I think that something like the Tomatoes exists; at the very least there really are clubs for older women to make friends outside of their families. And yet, the idea to make them start stealing stuff is just weird, and comes so late into the episode that it felt inconsequential. Especially because the episode ends with the group just kicking Marge out for no discernible reason, even though she actually was the only competent member of their heist. It just feels really weird to me, and was utterly forgettable.

Take Away: Everyone needs friends, but maybe don’t hang out with people who plot heists?

 

“The Last of the Red Hat Mamas” was written by Joel H Cohen and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2005.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S17 E06 – See Homer Run

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Well what a coincidence. Yesterday we had an episode about Bart and Marge’s relationship, and today we get an old-fashioned Lisa and Homer episode. However, this episode really only uses that to get to a really weird jumping off point where the episode completely goes off the rails. Let’s get into it!

The episode starts off with Homer prancing around the living room hanging Christmas decorations. This proves to be confusing to Bart and Lisa, since it’s June. But it’s explained by the fact that Homer apparently thinks that they should be celebrating Father’s Day in a much more lavish way, including having Father’s Day Eve. So clearly Homer’s really excited to Father’s Day, and the kids get to go with Marge to the mall to get presents. Hopefully they meet his expectations!

Marge and the kids wander around the mall, looking for a gift, and they pretty quickly find some stuff. Bart finds some crazy pocket-knife called the Leather Buddy, which has an absurd amount of gadgets attached. Lisa however only found a shirt about Shrek, so she’s feeling a little inadequate. And she decides that the only way to get past that is to do something special for Father’s Day, and decides that she should make a gift for Homer. So she goes to the craft store to buy supplies to make something that comes from the heart.

We then cut to the next morning where Homer is getting breakfast in bed, and the kids are giving him his presents. And he’s psyched about the Leather Buddy, even having a ridiculous fantasy about using it to fight pirates. However, he’s less excited about Lisa’s adorable handmade picture book about a pair of father and daughter unicorns having a great day. He’s disappointed in it, and just kind of blows it off, which instantly crushes Lisa. Strike one.

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So now it’s time for damage control. Marge yells at Homer, so he decides to try and fix things and puts the book up on the fridge. And in doing so he accidentally destroys the book with the water dispense. Strike two. Next Homer tries to take Lisa to a movie to bond, but he decides to try and get her in as a baby, which causes her to storm off in a huff. Strike three. Yeah, Lisa’s not doing well at this point. Oh, and we quickly see that the bullies have egged Bart into stealing a road sign that says Bart Street. Seems irrelevant, but it’ll come back later.

Anyway, Lisa’s full of fury now, and she’s just waiting for a target to vent it at. Which she finds in Martin, who just simply asks her for a colored pencil before school. And that sets her off. She starts freaking out, yelling at Martin about all men do is take and take, until she begins a whole rampage. She even throws her book bag through Skinner’s window, making him the new target. And just like that, Lisa has gotten a frowny face on her permanent record. Which means Homer and Marge are getting called in.

So Homer and Marge are brought into Skinner’s office for a meeting with Dr. Pryor. And he doesn’t have good news. He’s basically decided that Lisa is having a bit of a breakdown because she doesn’t have any positive male role models. So it’s all Homer’s fault, and he needs to fix it. And Skinner has just the way to win her back. Apparently the Elementary School usually has some adult dress up in a salamander suit and be some sort of safety instructor called the Safety Salamander. And he thinks that if Homer becomes this Salamander, he’ll win back Lisa’s respect. Somehow.

Homer quickly agrees to Skinner’s idea, and starts wearing the suit all the time, heading home to show Lisa how cool this is. And, if anything, it just embarrasses her. But he soldiers on, regardless of the fact that Homer is terrible at safety, and just keep botching everything he tries to do. He even tries to have some sort of assembly that ends with the auditorium being on fire and the kids having to evacuate, where Homer decides he should just give up.

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However, right as Homer’s giving up something ridiculous happens. That missing Bart Street sign causes Cleetus and Brandine to get in a massive car accident that ends up creating an enormous pile up, right in front of the school. So Homer springs into action and begins climbing the tower of cars, saving people. And by the time he’s done, he’s becomes a local hero, and the best Safety Salamander there’s ever been.

Homer’s even such a hero that he’s awarded the keycard to the city in a special ceremony with Mayor Quimby. And during that ceremony things spin wildly out of control, to the point that by the end the town decides to get rid of Mayor Quimby and have a recall election to find a new mayor. And just like that, 200 candidates decide to throw their hats in the ring and try to be mayor. And, because Homer was a moderately good Safety Salamander and a local hero, Lisa convinces him that he should run for mayor.

And because Springfield is almost completely populated by idiots, Homer decides that he should run as the Salamander and not Homer Simpson. And, once again, because they’re idiots, the people of Springfield love his campaign and he quickly becomes the leader in the polls. So Homer’s doing good. Unfortunately it turns out he hasn’t been washing his Salamander suits, and it’s starting to smell like death. So Marge decides to wash it.

This doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem, until Homer’s invited to a debate with the other weirdoes who are doing well in the polls. And as Homer starts explaining all of his platform, disaster strikes. Because the suit apparently wasn’t built to be washed, and it quickly starts falling apart. And the people of Springfield have no intention of electing Homer, they want a Salamander. So Homer ends up completely failing at the election, no one get s enough votes and Quimby gets to stay as the mayor, and apparently Homer and Lisa’s relationship is fixed, because they dance at the wreckage of his victory party.

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This episode just doesn’t do much for me. Normally I’m a huge sucker for Lisa/Homer episodes, but this one felt incredibly half-baked. It really seemed like this was two episode plots that they just couldn’t work out, and smashed together. Because it starts off as a typical Homer/Lisa episode where they have some sort of argument where Lisa’s feelings are hurt and Homer has to work to redeem himself. However, at the point where they would normally find something to bond over the episode takes a wild left turn with the Salamander nonsense. I have no idea why Lisa would forgive Homer being an asshole because he’s bad at being a mascot. And then things get even more insane when the recall election stuff happens! Was there a prominent recall going on at the time? Why would they even do this plot as what amounts to a B-Plot? Because as soon as Homer starts running for mayor we completely ignore all the Lisa stuff until the last minute when she forgives him for reasons that don’t really make sense. But everything had to end, so they all get back together and everything goes back to normal. It just felt muddled and meandering, and didn’t even use the Homer/Lisa formula in an effective way.

Take Away: Ironic mayoral candidacy can fix any problems in your personal life.

 

“See Homer Run” was written by Stephanie Gillis and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2005.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S17 E05 – Marge’s Son Poisoning

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One of my favorite types of episodes of the Golden Age of Simpsons were episodes that revolved around Homer and Lisa’s relationship. They were usually all guaranteed to be pretty much perfect episodes. But, oddly enough, the inverse usually wasn’t true. Nor that common. Episodes about Bart and Marge’s relationship just don’t really exist that much, and when they do they don’t tend to be that great. Oh, well look what we have here! One of those!

The episode starts off with the family heading to some Coney Island-esque place called Paradise Pier, mostly to just relive some of Marge’s childhood memories. But that proves to be difficult, because Paradise Pier is closing that day, and they’re actively taking it apart. That’s not going to stop the Simpsons though! They just ignore all of the demolition and repossession going on and keep on trying to have a good time.

They watch the workers try to destroy the three stacked milk bottles to limited success, we see Homer ride the bumper cars and go off the track until he smashes into Wiggum, Eddie, and Lou, and we see Bart beg for a magnesium sulfate bath to increase his vitality. But actually important things start to happen when Homer buys a single barbell from the strongman and Marge buys a tandem bicycle so that she and Homer can go on rides together.

Unfortunately when they get home it turns out that Homer hadn’t been listening, and has no interest whatsoever in riding a tandem bike with Marge. Especially since he seems to really be into using his little barbell, but only on his right arm. And it’s not just Homer, no one wants to ride the bike with Marge, causing Bart to lie and say he’s busy and Maggie to just pretend to be asleep. So, left with no alternatives Marge decides to ride her bike by herself, which is the saddest thing in the world.

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So sad that it actually makes Bart feel sorry for his mom, and decide to be nice for once. He comes to her and tells her that he actually wants to ride with her, which clearly makes her goddamn year. The two begin riding all around town, having a great time, and they even stumble upon some weird little hamlet called Springshire that appears to be a Victorian English town nestled in Springfield. But they have a quaint little tea-house, so Bart and Marge head on in to get tea and cakes.

Oh, but if Bart and Marge drinking tea isn’t exciting enough for you, we also have a weird B-Plot with Homer brewing. Because it turns out he’s been non-stop lifting that weight to the point that his right arm is ridiculously jacked. So much so that Moe decides Homer should be professional arm-wrestler, and basically be a ringer. They even invite the Rich Texan into the bar and make Homer look like the biggest pansy in the world, until the actual arm-wrestling takes place and he wins handily. So now Homer and Moe have a nice little scam to run!

Meanwhile, things with Bart and Marge are getting even more adorable. They begin spending basically all of their time together, to the point that he even starts blowing off Milhouse. But things take a turn when they head back to Springshire one day and find that the tea-house is closed. Marge assumes that that will be the end of their little friendship, until Bart suggests that they just turn his treehouse into a tea-house, which really takes Marge aback.

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Marge really thinks it’s an honor to be invited up to Bart’s treehouse, and even starts to class it up, giving it wallpaper and cross-stitched sayings. However, even though the treehouse is ready, they still don’t have a nice tea set, so they head out to the mall to get one while Homer and Moe head to some big arm-wrestling competition. And while they’re at the mall getting a Krusty tea-set, Bart runs into Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney who begin making fun of him, calling him a mamas boy.

And this turns out to be a really bad thing, because it causes Bart to flip out, and over correct. He starts acting like he’s still a bad-boy, and when Marge tries to act like they’re friends he freaks out and tells her that he only hung out with her because he pitied her. He then goes and rips up the treehouse while Marge falls into a pretty ridiculous depression, just walking around town with the tandem bicycle by herself.

Bart pretty quickly realizes that he’s made a huge mistake though, and goes to apologize to Marge. He even suggests that they participate in some sort karaoke contest that the Elementary School is putting on. Marge thinks this is a great idea, and goes to some sort of karaoke store in the mall to pick out the song that they should sing. And while she’s there she runs into Principal Skinner and Agnes, who are being their usual creepy selves, talking about how great it is for a son to be obsessed with his mother.

So the night of the karaoke contest comes, and Bart is all excited to sing with his mom and wear matching costumes. But as the night goes on and Marge watches Skinner and Agnes up on the stage singing “Ebony and Ivory” together, she gets a vision of how sad and pathetic Bart will be if he remains a momma’s boy. So she tells him she doesn’t want to hang out as much, and that he should go back to being a hell-raiser. Which he does gladly. But it’s all okay, because Homer’s bored with being an arm-wrestler already, and is more than happy to hang out with Marge now.

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I more or less liked this episode. Like I said up top, there aren’t that many great episodes that revolve around Bart and Marge, and I’m not really sure why. The relationship between a boy and his mother is an interesting one, and should be just as rife for good stories as Homer and Lisa’s relationship, but for some reason we just don’t have many of them. And this is a pretty solid one. I like the idea of Bart recognizing that Marge is sad, and deciding that he’s going to actively try to make her happy by spending time with her and finding a common activity. That’s pretty great. And I do believe that the idea of the bullies picking on him for being a momma’s boy is a really realistic direction for that story to go down. It’s that last act that strikes me as a little odd. I don’t think that spending time with your mom when you’re a kid is necessarily going to make you a creepy weirdo like Skinner. That’s a whole other level of dysfunction there. Because by the end it seemed to be saying that boys should like their mom, but not want to spend time with them. Which doesn’t really make any sense. But whatever, there was a good set-up, they just didn’t stick the landing.

Take Away: It’s okay to find common ground with your parents and actually spend time with them as people, not just parents.

“Marge’s Son Poisoning” was written by Daniel Chun and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2005.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S17 E04 – Treehouse of Horror XVI

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Last week was a little odd, what with us entering Season Seventeen without the loving embrace of a Treehouse of Horror episode to user us in. But, the law of averages has shined upon us, and we get to start the week off with Season Seventeen’s Halloween Special. Which begins with Kang and Kodos being furious that they’re having to wait for the Treehouse of Horror episode because the World Series is dragging on, and they hate baseball. Which was a super relateable feeling for teenaged me. So the two aliens do the only thing they can, and use a device to accelerate time. Unfortunately this still makes baseball boring, and has the unanticipated side-effect of causing a rip in time and space while results in the destruction of the universe. Whoops! Well, let’s get to the stories.

Bartificial Intelligence

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Our first story, which is timely in no way whatsoever, begins with Bart and Lisa being bored at Patty and Selma’s apartment while Marge helps them coupon. And while they’re bored Bart decides to try and jump from the window into their pool. He fails, smashes into the pavement, and falls into a coma. They rush Bart to the hospital, but there isn’t anything they can do for him, so he’s just trapped in a coma. But, Dr. Hibbert has a suggestion for them to deal with their grief. They can just buy a robot son to replace Bart! And, very quickly, they decide that this is a good decision, and order one up. It arrives, and is instantly helpful and kind, which means the family basically turn it into their slave. But it doesn’t seem to mind, so everyone’s happy!

Except Bart, who finally wakes up from his coma right as the family gets used to David the robot. So Bart heads home, finds the family loving on the robot, and get incredibly jealous. The family then decide to try and hang out with both children, giving it a go. But it doesn’t work out, so they do the only thing they can, and abandon Bart in the woods. But fortune smiles on Bart when he’s took in by a gang of discarded robots, spending the night partying with them and hearing their stories. And when they power down for the night he harvests their parts to build himself a war-mech to fight David with. So Bart heads home, with his robot suit, and battles David, until he’s finally able to cut him in half. He also cuts Homer in half, but that’s just collateral damage I guess. And it all works out, because they take David’s bottom-half and just stick it on Homer, so things work out great!

Survival of the Fattest

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Our second story, while not quite a scary story, is quite a lot of fun. It starts off with Homer getting a special letter in the mail from Mr. Burns. It invites him to a party at Burns’ private estate, so Homer and a bunch of other dumb dudes from town show up and have a fancy dinner. Unfortunately after dinner Mr. Burns announces that he had an ulterior motive to inviting all these randos to his house. He plans to hunt them for sport. Which is apparently legal since killing people is part of his religion. So he gives everyone a five minute head-start and starts hunting them.

And from there the rest of the segment is really just Mr. Burns killing people in ridiculous ways as it’s revealed that Fox is airing this as the World Series of Manslaughter, complete with Terry Bradshaw commentating. He kills Apu, who then get reincarnated as a rabbit and then immediately dies again. Then some dude try to hid in a tree, until Homer’s weight drags it down and flings them into the air so Mr. Burns has skeet shoot them. And he just weeds them out until it’s down to just Homer. Burns and Smithers go to track Homer down, and briefly get confused by Homer marionetteing Barney’s corpse as a distraction, but then they find him. And just as Burns is about to shoot Homer at point-blank, Marge comes out of nowhere and knocks both Burns and Smithers out with frying pans. So Homer’s safe now, and the two have sex in the woods while Terry Bradshaw watches.

I’ve Grown a Costume On Your Face

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Our last segment is really goofy, and feels kind of like it should be the plot of a Goosebumps book, but it’s full of a ton of great sight-gags. And it starts off with the family, and basically everyone else in town, hanging out in the Town Square and having a costume party. Homer’s dressed as a headless man, Bart’s a werewolf, Marge is a skeleton, Maggie is a witch, and Lisa is Albert Einstein. And they all watch Mayor Quimby give out the prize to the costume competition, which is given to a witch. But it turns out that she isn’t wearing a costume, and she’s actually a witch. This infuriates the town, who think she should give back her gift certificate, causing her to curse them all. She casts a spell, and everyone in town actually becomes the costumes they’re wearing. Which causes chaos immediately. The town falls apart in what appears to be seconds, and the Simpsons head home to figure out what to do. Now that Lisa is Einstein she’s actually a genius, and she begins trying to formulate an answer. Which she does when she sees that Maggie actually has magic now that she’s a real witch. So they plan on getting the whole town together to change them back. Unfortunately not everyone in town wants to be changed back, and everyone starts fighting. So, confused, Maggie just turns everyone into town into pacifiers, and flies away, fleeing the situation. Which obviously means that Moe has to end the episode by talking about the horrors of adult illiteracy with Dennis Rodman. Happy Halloween!

As far as Treehouse of Horror episodes go, this one wasn’t particularly strong, but it was still a good time. Season Seventeen’s been off to a pretty awkward start, so it’s nice to see them at least stick the landing with this episode. I’m still stunned that they thought an Artificial Intelligence parody was going to topical in 2005, but it was a fine little story and a couple good gags. The whole Most Dangerous Game parody was probably my favorite, even though it was completely stupid. I guess I just enjoyed seeing so many stupid men from Springfield dying in ridiculous ways. And I think that last segment could have been really great, it there was more to it. It felt really truncated, like it was significantly shorter than a normal Treehouse segment. There were some great sight-gags as we saw what the people of Springfield had been turned into, but other than gags there’s just not much to it. But overall I had a good time, and it was a nice way to start off our last week of 2017.

Take Away: Don’t jump out of windows, don’t go to rich people’s houses for unexplained get togethers, and don’t insult witches.

 

“Treehouse of Horror XVI” was written by Marc Wilmore and directed by David Silverman, 2005.

 

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