The Simpsons have been around for so long and are so well respected that they can basically do whatever they want with the show. So it’s kind of surprising that they don’t experiment more than they actually do. Yet, when it does happen it’s usually a pleasant surprise.
This episode started off non traditionally, going straight into the show with a cold open and then doing a parody intro afterwards. I knew what the show runners were doing but I had no real frame of reference. It turns out the episode is based off a 1970’s detective series called ‘Banacek’ where the title character solves seemingly impossible thefts while being utterly suave in the process.
In The Simpsons we have Manacek (played by an always committed Bill Hader) investigating the theft of the Juan Miro painting: The Poetess. Manacek is as suave as anyone can be delivering constant one liners like “for a woman with head for numbers…it doesn’t add up.” In every encounter, his questioning is always met with hostility until he works his charm and we get a begrudging “I like you Manacek.”
The three major suspects are Homer, Mr. Burns and billionaire Megan Matheton (played by Cecily Strong). Both Burns and Matheton are revealed to have motive and their stories are shaky at best but the real meat of the episode turns to Homer. During a reluctant round of field trip duty Homer is enamored by the abstract art of Miro and we get a funny sequence of him looking at it in different positions. We then get another funny scene moments later where he dreams about the painting in a very Homeresque abstract way. In it, he’s dancing inside the painting, drinking from it, playing basketball with it and even watching TV of the painting.
It’s not a stretch to say that Homer is into art. It’s also very plausible to say he’s into abstract art since he himself was a one time artist back in season 10’s ‘Mom and Pop Art’. In that episode, Homer created ‘masterpieces’ using his rage to ruin various objects. However, it is surprising that in ‘…Where the Art Isn’t’ Homer goes to Lisa instead of Marge for advice on his obsession. If you recall, Marge is a painter and one of her dreams was to become famous off her paintings. Yet, it can also be said that Marge is simply an amateur and Lisa would be the one to know the finer details of ‘fine art’.
So we get a nice mini Homer-Lisa story and also a very poignant line from Lisa: “I just want to take a moment to recognize that, for once, you’re dragging me to a museum.” The two go to the Springfield Museum of Fine Art (or SMOFA as the art community dubbed it) only to find that its permanently closed and that all the work including the Poetess is being sold off. Their shared heartbreak feels genuine and the moment captures their unique, niche relationship.
We then come full circle to the cold open where Homer tries to outbid both Burns and Matheton only to lose out to the latter, only now we know why he tried.
Manacek puts all of this together and solves the mystery. We then get a long summation of how each of the characters outdid the other. Matheton took out the guards with their twin siblings when the painting was on route to her place, Burns built an identical auction house next door to steal it before it left the premises. Then in an interesting twist we find out that Lisa replaced the painting with the image from her tote bag before it ever got auctioned off!
The painting eventually receives a place of honor at the new ‘Springfield Arena Football Arena’ which Quimby builds with the proceeds of the museum’s art auction, allowing Homer and Lisa to share their favorite things at the same time.
The end credits roll and we get an oddly funny montage of Manacek doing things like: wrestle Cletus in a train yard, help lock away Professor Frink, have fondu with Ms. Hoover while Moe chauffeurs them around, attend sex addicts anonymous, get his chest hair curled at the salon and sword duel with sideshow Mel in masquerade in a lavish mansion.
All in all this was a decent episode. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny but it had a certain charm about it. The source material was a bit obscure but it had enough similarities to more familiar series like Columbo that made it rather accessible. Also, the format made it feel different. For the majority of the episode Manacek was the main character and everyone else was simply there for him to solve the mystery. I quite liked this because it took the pressure off the main characters to deliver the laughs.
The episode also had a nice ‘in memory of’ to Stephen Hawking at the very end.
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