Lifetime of Simpsons

S21 E20 – To Surveil With Love

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Hey everyone! The world sure is scary right now, huh? And the overbearing surveillance of the police state is a shockingly real thing we have to be worried about? Well, how about we watch a fun Simpsons episode talking about mass surveillance? Sounds fun! Oh, and to make things even more surreal, how about starting the episode off with a shockingly bizarre “couch gag” where it’s just various characters lip-synching to a Ke$ha song? Makes sense to me!

The episode begins with Homer and the barflies sitting around in Moe’s, looking shockingly depressed. But their night is immediately made better when Duffman and some cheerleaders run into the bar with a whole bunch of useless Duff schwag. They toss out all kind of freebies, and Homer is able to completely and thoroughly deck himself out in Duff-branded garbage. He races home to show the family all of his new crap, and no one cares. And neither does the episode, because this barely comes back.

Things actually begin happening when we follow the kids to school, specifically the lunchroom. Nelson just decides to toss some chaos into the world and randomly trips Milhouse in the cafeteria, which causes Lisa to go on a rant, yelling at him about what a horrible thing he’s done. Nelson obviously does not care about this, but when she’s done Lisa is approached by a mysterious teacher we’ve never seen. Turns out she’s in charge of the school’s debate team, and she thinks that Lisa will be a natural at it.

Which is correct. Lisa comes and joins the debate team and rapidly becomes their best member, dominating just about every debate that she participates in. She even gets over the handicap of the team’s budget, which is so low that Ralph has to be her podium. But Lisa does run into a problem when she’s put up against a girl from another school who decides not to make the debate about the topic, and instead just starts calling Lisa dumb because she’s blonde. And it works great. Lisa loses the debate, all because of the color of her hair.

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Meanwhile, Homer is at the Power Plant, with a duffel bag that Duff gave him, just minding his own business. Which is when Mr. Burns and Smithers decide that the perfect place to hide some of their nuclear waste is inside Homer’s bag. I’m not sure what they thought the game-plan here was, but almost immediately Homer runs out of the Plant, and heads to the train station to try some mac and cheese at the diner. He gets there, sets his bag full of plutonium down, and has a meal, before running off to some other restaurant that gets recommended to him, leaving the bag behind.

And, after a while, some bystanders start to notice that there’s an unattended bag in the station, and freak the hell out. The bomb squad is eventually called in, and they decide to detonate the bag just to be safe. Which causes a massive explosion, which destroys the train station. This obviously terrifies the people of Springfield, who hold a Town Hall to talk about terrorism. But they have an idea! Springfield has brought in a man named Nigel Bakerbutcher from England, who has some advice for Springfield. They need to cover the city in CCTV cameras so everyone is monitored at all time.

Lisa is obviously aghast at this idea, and starts loudly explaining to everyone about how terrible this idea is, and how it goes against the Constitution. But no one cares what she has to say, because they’re too fixated on her blonde hair. This really starts to bug Lisa, to the point that Marge tries to give her some book about being different, but it’s just kind of more depressing. She even starts to notice all the blonde jokes in Krusty’s set, which drives her insane. Bart however doesn’t mind, since blonde men are just evil, not dumb.

So Springfield begins plastering the town in CCTVs, and it becomes a massive success. Well, until Chief Wiggum realizes that he’s going to have to do all sorts of work monitoring all of the feeds. This quickly proves too daunting for him, and he decides to just let random nosey citizens volunteer and watch the monitors, informing the police of any wrong-doing. So a bunch of weirdoes, headed by Marge and Ned Flanders, volunteer and start stalking the city.

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And Ned loves it! He’s even able to use some voice function on the cameras to nag people, and he basically singlehandedly becomes the omniscient moral voice for the whole city. Marge however, is a little concerned. She thinks that the city is monitoring things too much, and starts to feel creepy about the whole thing. But she still doesn’t want to ignore the new rules, and continues working away at the surveillance.

Hey, let’s finish off that Lisa plot! She’s been driven so insane by all of this blonde-talk, and had decided that she needs to do something serious. So she buys some hair dye and turns her hair brown. Which works wonderfully. She ends up participating in a debate, and now that she has brown hair she wins easily. But this bothers her, and she admits that she’s blonde, and tries to convince everyone that hair color doesn’t matter. And I guess she succeeds? I don’t know, it kind of fizzled out at the end.

Anyway, the police state is still going great for Springfield, but just about everyone else is growing incredibly irritated with the cameras, and specifically Ned. But everything changes one day when Bart makes a startling discovery. There’s a blindspot, in the Simpson’s backyard, where none of the cameras can see what’s going on. So Bart tests the boundaries of the cameras, and ends up making a boundary where the blindspot is. And at that point, he and Homer start marketing it.

The blindspot becomes huge in Springfield, and essentially becomes international waters. People pile into the Simpson’s backyard and begin doing all kinds of illegal things. And people love it. Which means it’s time for Marge to find it. She’s horrified that Homer is doing all sorts of illegal things, and ends up storming out of the backyard, complaining to herself about the blindspot. Unfortunately Ned is able to overhear her complaining about the blindspot, and he storms over to the backyard to yell about the blindspot. However, Homer actually ends up reaching Ned, and explains that no one in town likes the cameras, and eventually Ned realizes he’s become Big Brother. So Homer and Ned travel around town, breaking all of the cameras, which really bums out the Queen of England, who was enjoying the British reality show that was being made from the cameras.

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Overall I enjoyed this episode. I think it doesn’t really dive deep enough into the ideas it’s mulling around, but I think it’s still rather fun. The problem of wide-spread government surveillance is really important, and obviously I don’t think that it’s the role of the Simpsons to dive in and give a thoughtful thesis, but the episode really didn’t do much other than decide that it’s bad. Similarly, the whole hair color plot really fell apart at the end, even though the idea that physical factors don’t relate to intelligence is actually a really interesting idea. I just kind of came away thinking that the episode could have used another draft or something. There were some great ideas in there, and some great jokes, but it just kind of felt like it needed a bit more polish to get it across the finish line.

Take Away: Government surveillance is bad. So is judging people on physical characteristics.

 

“To Surveil with Love” was written by Michael Nobori and directed by Lance Kramer, 2010.

 

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