Lifetime of Simpsons

S31 E15 – Screenless

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It’s another week of the Simpsons, and another episode that seems to have slipped through a time-vortex from like three years ago this week folks. Because that just kind of seems to be the new normal around here. And, as an added bonus, we get a healthy helping of “the damn kids today,” gripes. Get ready for a fun episode!

Things start off with the family sitting around on the couch, watching a true-crime documentary called Marketing a Murderer that’s mainly about how profitable this guy’s crime is to various true-crime documentaries. And, they end up realizing that the case is very sensational, despite the fact that there doesn’t actually seem to be a murder involved, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because it’s an engaging story.

And, while the family’s attention is rapt, we see that Maggie is desperate to get their attention. But, everyone just keeps watching the show and talking, ignoring her until she finally catches their attention, and they all just sort of start patronizing her. That is until Lisa makes a suggestion. Because apparently Springfield has just learned about the fad of teaching babies sign language, and they decide that that will be a perfect way to communicate with Maggie.

Marge starts trying to teach Maggie how to sign her various wants to the family, but it doesn’t seem to be going well, because Maggie just treats it as an excuse to get Cherrios as some sort of positive reinforcement. Bart tries his hand at teaching her by using the sign language to play blackjack, but that doesn’t seem to work either.

However, while Marge is giving it one more shot while Bart is sitting around watching some Twitch video of a Fortnight parody, Marge finally makes some progress. Because after telling Bart that Maggie shouldn’t see anything so violent she begins reading her a violent fairy tale instead, and Maggie asks for more.

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Marge is thrilled, and races out to the living room to share the good news with the rest of the family. But, they’re all busy looking at their phones, and Marge ends up freaking out at them. She decides that its high-time that they all start limiting their screen-time, declaring that everyone in the family, herself included, will now only use their phones for 30 minutes a week. And, just like that, the baby sign-language has been dropped, and it’s time to talk about those goddamn smartphones.

A week later Marge asks the family to get together so she can see if they’ve been following her new rules. And, shockingly, all of their numbers are quite low. Marge is thrilled, assuming this harsh new tactic was a success, until she immediately learns that the family have been using some sort of screen-time altering service that hides their usual usage. So, she steals all of their phones, and makes them actually fall in line for a week.

And, weirdly, it works this time. Homer’s all mad at first, actually having to work, until Lenny and Carl introduce him to the Junior Jumble in the newspaper, which he takes an immediate shine to. Bart ends up actually using his imagination at school, playing with a little toy rocket and accidentally inspiring Jimbo and Dolph to play with him as well. And, Lisa goes to the library and uses a card uncatalogued, which she finds endlessly charming for some reason.

The only person who seems to be having a problem ends up being Marge. She gets ignored by Patty and Selma, and finds that she’s completely unable to remember any of her recipes without looking them up on the internet. And, when the rest of the family come home that day, in a state of bliss, they find Marge in some sort of screen-coma, having spent the whole day trolling Pinterest.

And, as the rest of the family begin mocking Marge for being a hypocrite, she decides that it’s time for everyone in the family to go to a technology addiction center, instead of just her. They complain a bit, but they all end up going anyway, and quickly find that this rehab facility is a goddamn paradise. Even though it’s run by Werner Herzog, which should be a big red flag.

 

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It has all sorts of amenities, and it’s completely funded by guilty tech billionaires, so it’s free. Homer and Marge are taught adult ways to spend their time, like drinking, having sex, or listening to podcasts. Bart goes to a support group that’s mainly kids talking about video games they used to play. Homer learns to play solitaire in real life. And Marge gets to log into all of her social media accounts and deactivate them.

But, it’s not getting any easier. The family find themselves quickly fed up with this place, and wish that they had the freedom to play with their own property again. Marge wants them to stick it out and learn to live without their technology, but Homer ends up providing a counter point. He gives a speech about the fact that technology has perfected the American family, and has made it actually tolerable to live with other people. And, this works.

The family decide that they’re going to leave, and they go talk to Dr. Lund, who runs the place. But, when they confront him they find that this whole place is actually a scam. They get people to log out of their social media profiles and then use them to send out vast quantities of spam while mining metadata from their patients. He also tells them that they’re trapped now, and escaping is impossible. But, after pretty easily slipping through the insane security measures they manage to get out of the facility, and go get the police to arrest Lund for this scam. They then presumably go back to their normal ways.

 

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As you can probably surmise, this episode wasn’t really for me. It’s just a little disappointing to see a show that at its heyday was so hooked into the popular consciousness, and subverting things kind of become a grouchy source of jab at the kids today. Seeing them spend almost an entire episode complaining about people using their phones too much, after also mocking baby sign-language and true-crime documentaries, just really ended up making this episode feel like it was yelling at me to get off my lawn. Things change, and despite the deep love I have for this show I can’t deny the fact that it has lived far past its expiration date. Despite bringing in younger voices in the writing staff, it just continues to feel like a show that society has marched past, and instead of attempting to catch up it just complains that it isn’t cool anymore. And, it’s just a bummer. I want to still love this show, but it’s really making that hard.

 

“Screenless” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Michael Polcino, 2020.

 

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