The Simpsons are back after a brief hiatus for the holidays!
The first half of the season was pretty solid with more high’s than low’s which is quite the achievement given the state of ‘latter day’ Simpsons episodes. So, it was nice to see that Mad About The Toy continues the good quality.
Interestingly enough, the episode centered around Abe and normally which on its face would not make for a great episode. This is because Abe is usually best in short bursts of old man jokes. But here, we get a signature Simpsons episode that hits all the right buttons and even provides a few surprises.
The episode begins with Homer and Marge going on a date night. Since they’ve been blacklisted by the town’s babysitter’s Homer decides to leave the kids with Alexa (the Amazon device, in case there was any confusion). After that fails, they resort to Grandpa Abe who proves to be boring for the kids. When the kids look for games to play Abe freaks out when he sees a container of miniature army men toys. The family take him to see a psychologist and we discover that Abe was not freaking out over the war he was in but on his modelling for a toy company.
Thinking that he’s owed millions Abe takes to TV to demand compensation. The toy company in question fly’s him and the family out to New York to talk. The CEO explains that Abe never signed the contract because he abruptly left. Then its further revealed that the photographer (Phillip) who shot Abe back then misinterpreted Abe’s friendliness and kissed him which caused Abe to freak out. Phillip was later fired by that company for being gay. Feeling bad about potentially ruining a life, Abe decides to make amends by finding Phillip who, thanks to Lisa’s pro online stalker techniques, now lives in Marfa Texas.
When he gets there he finds the whole town adorned with art from that same toy collection. There’s even an art studio which belongs to Phillip. It turns out that his life wasn’t ruined and that the event forced him to begin living his life unashamedly. The two make amends by finishing the photo shoot and Abe caps it off by returning the kiss. Nothing comes of it as Abe says he’s as straight as Gomer Pyle but he leaves Texas knowing he’s made a new friend.
In Mad About The Toy we get two head fake’s. The first with the revelation that this wasn’t going to be a war narrative and instead a get rich quick story. The second comes when we finally get to the nub of Abe’s freak outs, his homosexual experience and the guilt he feels over it; the second revelation implicitly revealing that the first revelation too was not the whole story.
It’s easy to forget how hard comedy writing is. Its especially harder when you’re trying to get a point across. Its made even harder still when you try to blend heart, satire, sight gags, wordplay, punning sign jokes, and 30 years’ worth of characterization and baggage. So when an episode like this one comes along it stands out because it does all of those things.
However, its not like the show is treading new ground. We’ve been here before with season 8’s Homer’s Phobia the first to deal with homosexuality and in admirably graceful comedic way. More recently the way that the show has handled Waylon Smithers’ integration as a fully rounded, out gay man in Springfield has resulted in some genuinely heartening and heartwarming (and funny) moments.
What makes this episode special is how they elevated what could have been a standard war story or even a get rich quick one into a very nuanced and thoughtful exploration into manhood and friendship. The final shot of Abe back in the retirement home with a picture of himself and Phillip just adds the right level of emotion. You’re never too late to find someone that makes your life a little less lonely.
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