In the era of ‘post classic’ Simpsons, good episodes are hard to find but they are there. I won’t get into what makes a classic episode (perhaps an article for another day) but generally speaking everything has go right. In hindsight, the ability of the show to do this on a regular basis was nothing short of remarkable.
Now, the show’s knack for producing mediocre episodes make even the marginally good ones stand out. Baby You Can’t Drive My Car (BYC henceforth), is an above average episode with ‘classic’ potential.
In this BYC Homer loses his job after crashing his car into Mr. Burns’ office. During his time off he stumbles upon Car Go, a self driving car company looking for people who can sit around for hours doing nothing. Homer is given the job and its not long before he gets a promotion and Marge is hired as well. They work together boosting employee satisfaction which causes others to leave their jobs and join Car Go. Homer and Marge find out that the company is data mining its subjects and in twist of fate team up with Mr. Burns and Smithers to take down the company.
The first good jab comes at the beginning of BYC. When Homer proclaims that being fired is the very thing he needs to turn his life around, Burns points out he’s lucky it’s only his life because he’d have to turn his body around in shifts.
After Homer gets fired he engages in his wonted unemployment strategy of moping, whining, licking deodorant sticks (mint is mint apparently) and bingeing Korean soap operas. This last one was quite random but oddly made sense given Homer’s sporadic flare for the eccentric. I kind of wish they added more of these one-off’s into episodes.
In comes Car Go which, as the job interview laid bare, highlights how perfect the job of testing self driving cars would be for Homer. His bad driving record is a plus, he never uses blinkers and he once drove himself over. In the final round of employee selection the finalists are pitted against each other on who can sit the longest and Homer naturally takes the cake. But what makes this scene even better is the time lapse which eventually reveals a group of hooded men entering the room to perform a sacrificial ritual on a goat. Again, this addition was quite random but made sense given what we would find out about Car Go and their ulterior motives.
The job is too good to be true but Homer and Marge quickly realize that all the special features of the workplace are underused. There’s a full service kitchen providing free food, an exercise room, game room and even an in office hockey rink. Seeing the value (via a foosball table spy cam) of their drones actually taking advantage of all the recreational amenities on campus, the two execs in charge hire Marge to work alongside Homer to raise morale and productivity.
Things go awry when the two realize that Car Go is data mining its drivers (along with their Equifax profiles). This is where the episodes kind of loses it for me. The plot seems to cast the two into antagonism without much logic. Homer is the one who gets up in arms about the data-mining, while Marge, swept up in all the good their joint venture is having on their marriage, at first decides that a company secretly stealing every scrap of Spiringfielders’ personal information is an insignificant price to pay. “I can’t be the ethical one!,” protests Homer at one point, and, well, he’s got a point (to which Alexa agrees, who also points out that Homer has another Alexa simply for chocolate). It’s sweet to see Marge and Homer dancing a graceful waltz in a virtual reality ballroom, and Marge’s anguished excuse that “we were having so much fun!” is pretty heartbreaking when you think about it. But the conflict just doesn’t land, and when Marge (horrified that CarGo plans to extend the listening-in to the cars’ key fob—even in the powder room) finally decides to help Smithers, Burns, and Homer’s sabotage, it’s too thin a motivation.
Which leads us to our other duo. Smithers was very impressive here as he was at his passively aggressive sycophantic best. He informs Mr. Burns the new Car Go company has a progressive policy about the LGBT community, which the nuclear plant owner translates as Lazy goof-off baboons and transgendered. But Smithers also turns out to be a tech wizard. He figures out how to shut down all the cars by hacking into the car’s computers and cab hacks everywhere rejoice.
Burns was not too shabby either during the infiltration of the company. He witnessed a different type of nefariousness and relished in the thought. Even at the end when we get look into his memories which happens to be an old 1920’s man moving cards on a conveyor was a nice touch.
The unfortunate part of the episode was that it was not laugh out loud funny. Instead, I found myself constantly amused throughout which I think is the best that this post classic era can muster. This isn’t a bad thing as I found the episode to be quite good as it bore similarities with another classic “You Only Move Twice” from season 8.
There were some okay jokes here though. Homer resolutely not getting the concept of a driverless car is some classic Homer-think, as he gamely ventures that, while there’s no steering wheel, there surely is a joystick, or something “like a turning wheel—for steering.” There’s a joke about the nerds grooving happily to a nonsensically bland A.I.-written Christmas carol that’s pitch-perfectly creepy. And Homer’s secretly eavesdropping car responds to Homer and Marge’s blithe conversation with some hilarious comic timing. (“I could eat a horse” sees the car bringing them to a Krusty Burger, while Homer’s “Holy crap!” brings them to the church.)
Another thing to point out was that the BYC had no B story. There’s nothing wrong with having one but last season was notorious for having multiple B stories which ruined good episodes and made the bad ones even worse.
Lastly, this fresh episode felt fresh because it commented on all of the things that have been on our mind entering into the future like self-driving cars and our computers listening into our conversations. It is this kind of commentary that we watch The Simpsons for. It is great to have this kind of intelligent and humorous look at what impacts our world. The episode is as close to a classic as we’re going to get but I think more importantly it is episodes like this that remind us exactly why we need The Simpsons thirty years after their introduction.
Make sure to catch new Simpsons episodes every Sunday on Fox and keep it locked on TGON for all your news, reviews and analysis.