You know how yesterday I talked about the weird Renaissance of Mr. Burns episodes we’ve been having? Well, that streak is going to continue today, because we’re getting yet another one! And, it’s weird as all hell!
The episode begins with Smithers dropping Mr. Burns off at a large medical facility, which Burns is very embarrassed about. He sneaks inside, avoids all the other doctors, and finally slips into one specific office. A psychiatrist. Apparently Burns sees a therapist, and has for decades, and regardless of that tenure he’s still incredibly embarrassed about being seen in there. It’s clear they have a very lengthy relationship, and it’s mostly been built around Burns dealing with his anger issues.
Unfortunately, after decades of working together the psychiatrist has officially given up. He has no hope in Burns ever being a complete person, and he just can’t take it anymore. He tells Burns that his whole problem is that he never had a family, and has no hope in gaining happiness, so this is all a fruitless pursuit. Burns is infuriated by this news, and storms out of the office, which promptly gives the psychiatrist enough stress that he has a heart attack and dies.
We then cut to the psychiatrist’s funeral, and oddly enough the Simpsons are there. Apparently, he tried to teach them communication at some point, and it went terribly. In fact, it went so poorly that Maggie vowed to never talk after being ignored. There’s absolutely no reason for the Simpsons to be there though, because the only important thing we see going on is that Burns continues to be an asshole to this man, even in death, and tries to put up a tombstone that prominently features himself, which riles up the man’s friends and family to chase him out of the cemetery.
From there we immediately cut to an oddly blurry first-person scene of Professor Frink accepting a Nobel prize. It seems very strange, but we learn what’s going on when Frink is suddenly and violently hit by a car. Burns’ car specifically. Apparently, Frink had been wearing an advanced VR rig and had been walking around town, right until he got hit by Burns’ car while they were fleeing the funeral they ruined.
Frink is in pretty bad shape, and Burns is baffled at what he was doing. But, while Smithers and Burns call an ambulance for him they ask him what his gadget is. Frink explains it, and Burns is immediately fascinated. So, he steals it from Frink and tosses the goggles on. And he’s blown away. He doesn’t really care about receiving a Nobel prize, but the technology is fascinating to him, so while Frink gets carted off to the hospital they take the gadget and return back to the office.
And Burns loves it! Smithers is downloading all sorts of VR experiences for Burns so he can wander around the office, having a blast. Most of it is porn, and some of it is dragon porn, but it’s enough to get Burns very addicted. Unfortunately, he quickly runs out of available programming for the set. Which instantly frustrates Burns, who demands for Smithers to make him a new experience. And, taking the final lesson from Burns’ psychiatrist, he comes up with the idea to create Burns a virtual family to finally give him peace and happiness. And Burns loves this idea.
So, Burns and Smithers start auditioning families from around town to be coded into Burns’ fantasy, and of course the Simpsons win. Well, not all of them. Burns wants to make himself the father-figure, so Homer’s services are not required, just his wife and children. The rest of the family then head to a studio that Burns has created, put on some green-suits, and start filming scenes to replicate a weird idealized 50’s family for Burns to enjoy.
Burns quickly becomes obsessed with this fake family, and works the Simpsons as hard as possible. They’re forced to move into a separate home on Burns’ property so that they can be at his beck and call at all hours in case he comes up with a new scene he wants them to film. Marge and the kids quickly start to hate it though, and that’s made even worse when Burns decides to extend their contracts for a solid decade, ensuring that they’ll be his fake family for the foreseeable future.
While all of this is going on Homer is forced to live by himself at the house, and he quickly becomes depressed. He misses his family, and just kind of listlessly wanders around the house. That is until he stops by Moe’s and gets some advice. Moe explains that Homer’s basically a kid home-alone now, and he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And this clicks in Homer. So, he storms home and starts living like a frat-boy.
Homer starts a life of leisure, just relaxing and being nude all the time. And, while sitting nude on his roof one evening he has an interesting encounter with a neighbor. No, not Ned. It’s a woman named Julia who is in the house behind him. But, shockingly, she’s not disgusted by Homer’s nude roof lounging. In fact, she gets it. Julia is an odd woman, and she and Homer quickly strike up a friendship built around beer, snacks, and laziness. She’s basically Mindy, but in this case, it’s not sexual. Julia is engaged, and they’re just starting a really solid friendship.
Homer and Julia start spending a whole lot of time together, and they become best friends. We do see that Marge senses a disturbance in the Force at that point, worrying that something fishy is going on with Homer, but at this point in the episode we start hammering in the fact that Homer and Julia’s relationship is platonic. We see several scenes that are basically the same, with people just assuming they’re having an affair, only to be rebuked. It’s kind of weird how many times they tell us.
Meanwhile, Burns has become an absolute lunatic and is spending almost all of his time in his virtual world. It’s even reached the point that they’re digitally aged the kids so that they’re now college-aged, giving Burns the full fatherhood experience. And the family hates it. They start fussing all the time, and between that and Burns starting to grow bored with the whole experiment, Burns ends up firing the family, and letting them return home.
So, Marge and the kids return home only to find Homer sitting on the couch, talking to Julia on the phone. And Marge is instantly jealous. Especially when Homer tries to deflect it all by saying that she’s his best friend. Marge gets really pissed off by this idea, since after so many years of marriage she thinks that she should be Homer’s best friend, and can’t shake the idea that Homer and Julia are at least having an emotional affair.
Just on time though, Julia shows up at the house. She’s come over to meet Marge, and disarm the situation. She explains to Marge that she has absolutely no romantic inclinations for Homer, that he’s a great guy, and that she’s a lucky woman. This kind of works to calm down Marge, but things are really helped when Homer starts telling Marge that his friendship with Julia has taught him to appreciate women more, and that he’s eager to be a better husband. So, everything works out great! Oh, and Burns gets to experience the Simpsons family being around him at his deathbed, which does nothing to fix his anger.
This episode is fun, but I think it’s kind of strangely structured. I really, really love the idea of Mr. Burns learning about VR, and becoming obsessed with the idea of creating himself a fictional family. Of course, he picks the Simpsons, and having them become captives of his insane wishes as he slowly slides into madness is an incredibly solid idea for an episode, and I loved that stuff. Honestly, the only way that I think it could have been better is if they didn’t necessarily fixate on the Simpsons, and have Burns assemble a weird assortment of Springfield citizens as his family, with only one of the Simpsons in there. But, I get it, this is the Simpsons so the Simpsons are going to be integrally involved. What I don’t really like about this episode is that it fixates on this Burns plot for so much of the episode, only to then rapidly swing into the Homer plot, leaving the Burns stuff in the dust. But, I still do like the Homer and Julia stuff. That’s a fun premise, and I think it worked well. I just think it’s kind of weird that these two plots were smooshed into each other. I really think that they’re both be stronger if given their own episodes, instead of being squeezed into one episode. I think this is a really fun and enjoyable episode, I just kind of end up wishing that it had been more, which I guess is a good thing.
Take Away: VR will solve all of your problems, and men and women are allowed to be platonic friends and it shouldn’t be a big deal.
“Friends and Family” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Lance Kramer, 2016.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons
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