As someone who writes obsessively about the Simpsons, a show the vast majority of people have all but given up interest in, it can get exciting to see the show suddenly make it back into the pop culture conversation. It can sometimes feel like I’m shouting into the void, talking about things that basically no one is still watching. So, when people are suddenly talking about the Simpsons again, it feels a little exciting! Until you realize that the reason that people are talking about the show is because they did something incredibly ignorant, preformed some character assassination, and generally raised the ire of everyone talking about it. Like this week! Buckle up folks, we’re in for a terrible episode!
Thing start off by establishing that Springfield is currently embroiled in an Itchy and Scratchy fascination, because there’s a massive marathon airing that is showing every single episode of the cartoon in a row. You know, like that thing the Simpsons did four years ago? Timely!
Anyway, everyone in Springfield seems fascinated with the marathon, including Homer and the kids. They’ve been sitting in their living room watching the cartoons, and Krusty’s slow descent into madness, for fourteen hours straight, and they show no sign of giving up on it. That is until Marge comes in to ruin everyone’s fun. She says that the family’s brains are rotting, and she wants them to stop watching TV and spend some family time together without TV.
They of course then just start playing around on their phones, until Marge loses her mind on that and Grandpa comes in to sing a song for some reason. With that taken care of, Marge decides that they need to start reading more books, and tells the family that they’re going to go to the library, put their phones away, get some books, and just quietly read together for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, they run into a whole bunch of problems to accomplish that task. The library is closed because no one in Springfield is interested in it, they go to a fancy bookstore but it really doesn’t sell books anymore and just focuses on poorly designed readers that the family aren’t interested in, and finally end up at a weird little used-bookstore in the middle of nowhere.
They wander around the bookstore, and end up picking some stuff up. Marge finds a copy of a book called The Princess in the Garden, which was her favorite book when she was Lisa’s age, and she decides she wants to share it with her. Bart and Homer though aren’t interested in books, and Bart is able to find the one WiFi hotspot to start surfing the web and trying to get tickets to a convention for a MineCraft knockoff called TunnelCraft. But, Homer decides to stand up and tell him that he can’t go to the convention as punishment for using his phone at the store.
Bart is pretty pissed off about this, and ends up getting the attention of the bookstore owner, who has a recommendation for Bart. He gives him Sun Tzu’s the Art of War in the hopes that Bart will learn how to wage war against his father and defeat him in combat. And he ends up picking it up pretty quick. He even starts using the knowledge to help out problems in his life, like messing with Nelson’s mind so that he avoids being bullied. Nelson is then cremated by Groundskeeper Willie. Moving on!
Marge is excited to share her old book with Lisa, and gets ready to read it to her that night. Lisa isn’t really interested though, but Marge just plows ahead, forcing her childhood on her daughter despite massive disinterest. But, when Marge starts reading the book, she realizes something concerning. It’s super racist! It’s all about colonialism, and Marge realizes that Lisa would hate it, since it has aged terribly.
So, Marge stops reading the book, and tells Lisa that they’ll get back to it after she does some thinking. And, that night, Marge ends up having a dream where she talks with the author in a garden. And the author says that being racist is totally fine, and nothing to be ashamed of. But, she also says that it’s perfectly find if Marge edits her book, making it slightly less problematic.
Meanwhile, Bart has been concocting an extremely complicated plan to get revenge on Homer, and permission to go to the convention. It begins by getting Lenny to let Bart know when Homer will get in his car after work. Then, when Homer’s in the car, Bart distracts him to the point where he rear-ends Chief Wiggum. Once Homer is released, he finds a trail of candy leading him out of the town, and into a swamp. Homer follows them without question, and ends up sinking into the muck of the swamp. Bart and Milhouse then arrive and say that they’ll only save Homer if he takes them to the dumb convention. And, for some reason, Homer folds and agrees to take the boys.
We now reach the portion of the episode that has drawn all the hatred. Because Marge has spent the day editing out all of the offensive material in the book, and is ready to read it to Lisa. And it’s insane. It becomes a weird parody of being woke, with plenty of references to gender identity and being pro-net neutrality. Lisa quickly realizes that this whole thing is awful, and starts telling Marge that she doesn’t care if things in the past were racist, because that’s the time that they were made. She and Marge then straight up look at the camera, while looking at a picture of Apu, and start telling us that being worried about offensive material is ridiculous, and everyone should just get over it. We’ll talk about this later.
Back in the other plot though, Homer is taking the kids to the convention, and it looks incredibly lame. But, Bart and Milhouse seem to enjoy it, so who knows. It’s mainly just an excuse for Homer to mock the idea of comventions and kids enjoying to watch Let’s Play videos. Because the things the kids today like are stupid and they’re stupid for liking them, I guess.
Bart is acting really terribly to Homer this entire time, and Homer just can’t figure out what’s going on, and how Bart got one over on him. So, Homer decides to get some answers out of Milhouse. Homer threatens him, and Milhouse quickly folds and tells Homer everything about the Art of War. So, Homer decides to pick the book up and plot Bart’s ruination.
We’re then given a weird little coda to the Marge/Lisa plot when Lisa takes Marge to a nearby college to talk to some literary professors. They’re experts on the woman who wrote Marge’s racist book, and they explain that she was a product of her times. They also imply that because she was a lesbian, her racism is excused. But even Marge says that sounds like bullshit. That’s it though, the professors start pounding hard liquor and this plot is over.
We still have the other one though! Homer has read Art of War now, and has come up with a way to destroy Bart. He makes it personal. Homer starts befriending Ned Flanders, knowing that Ned’s behavior drives Homer crazy. So now Ned is over all the time, playing bluegrass and spouting his crazy phrases while Bart starts to crack. Homer even starts dressing and acting like Ned, just to push him farther. But, for whatever reason, the final straw for Bart is when Ned and Homer bring Bart to the Aztec Theater to watch a Harold Lloyd silent movie. This apparently is too much for Bart, and he capitulates, ending their war and bringing everything back to normal.
Okay. Listen. Even without this episodes incredibly shitty response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Apu, this episode would have been terrible. It’s just not an interesting story. The main plot of the episode revolves around Homer and Bart being shitty to each other, which is a type of plot that I absolutely loathe, and they just don’t do anything with it other than mine some comedic depths and make fun of YouTube celebrities. But, the real reason that this episode has plunged the Simpsons back into the discourse is the way that it handles the Apu thing. Now, in case you’re not familiar with it, there was a documentary released last year called the Problem With Apu. It’s made by a comedian named Hari Kondabolu. It’s about how people of South Asian heritage hate Apu, since he’s often little more than a racial stereotype. Now, I’ve said before on this site that I like Apu as a character. They’ve given him some surprising depth over the years, and he’s one of my favorite tertiary characters on the show. But, I think it’s impossible to deny that Apu is problematic. He’s a caricature, voiced by a white actor doing a broad stereotypical accent. Yeah, Apu is a character who came from a different time, since this show has been on for almost thirty years, but that doesn’t excuse it. It wasn’t okay then, it’s just that the people who were offended by it didn’t have the ability to make their complaints known. It’s a very well-made documentary, and raises some interesting questions. And, in response to them, the show just had Lisa Simpson, the show’s paragon of virtue and decency, look right at the audience and tell them that the show has heard the complaints, and doesn’t care. It’s basically the show saying “Sorry you’re offended.” That’s not an apology. That’s just saying that they don’t care about the fact that an entire ethnicity is offended at one of their characters. And it sucks! I have no idea what they could do to fix Apu. Probably nothing. More than likely the show is damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But to not even try, to just tarnish Lisa Simpson and have her tell us that we should just stop being offended, is incredibly infuriating. Smarter folks than me have written about this episode, and what the show’s indifference towards justifiable complaints mean, so I highly encourage you to check them out if you’re at all interested. All I have left to say is that I’m ashamed of this show. They’re supposed to be better than this. And it’s going to be really hard to still give a damn about this show as it continues to limp along, growing ignorant and uninterested in the world around it.
“No Good Read Goes Unpunished” was written by Jeff Westbrook and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2018.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons