After last week, the only way things could have gone worse for The Simpsons was for them to continue their mistakes from last season. Had that happened my slim rejuvenated faith in the show would have shattered. Fortunately, Jebus has answered my prayers and this week the show has righted the ship and delivered a not terrible episode.
For starters they have once again decided to focus on one story line instead of a mishmash of ideas. As the title suggests the focus is on E Sports. Homer punishes Bart (just because?) by getting him a very sophisticated gaming setup in his room. Explaining his half-assed parenting to Marge, Homer’s voice slips into signature singsong placating register, telling her, “I only addicted him to something that will numb his spirit until he’s no longer our responsibility.”
Bart naturally becomes very good at gaming as he plays with Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and Sophie in Conflict of Enemies (a MOBA style game like League of Legends). Interestingly, the writers collaborated with Riot Games to make sure the depiction of the culture wasn’t totally out of touch. So sprinkled throughout the episode are phrases like ‘gg’, ‘noob’ and ‘ganking’. My favorite though is the depiction of the maladjusted teen who calls himself ‘The Detonator’. Homer hires him to train the kids to win tournaments but he leaves after a while once he loses himself.
His first scene is brilliant. He silently hands Marge a note explaining that he can only respond to game-related conversation, but he politely gives her a “Thank you, ma’am,” when Marge manages to slip some game-talk into her directions to where Bart and his gaming gang are. He also documents going to bathroom while applying gaming time saving measures to speed up the process.
Speaking of Marge, she is the responsible one and genuinely worries for Bart. There’s a moment when she wonders out loud if Bart’s general behavior will one day land him jail. Homer reassures her that his kill count 98% and that those people never end up in jail. There’s a funny exchange between the two when Homer explains to Bart how he defy’s Marge. He never directly tells her anything bad and instead secretly makes her a part of everything she’s against. He demonstrates by buying her a new coffee machine all the while sprinkling into their conversations things that would normally make her upset.
The only gripe with the episode is the way they handled the ending. Lisa gets the B story which highlights how Homer has neglected her. When Bart’s team (cleverly named the Evergreen Terrors) reaches the finals of their tournament in Seoul, South Korea, Lisa begs Marge to go so she can visit a Buddhist temple. There she enlightens her parents on the art of salt drawing where the point is to destroy the art once complete to denounce materialism. Homer reaches an immediate state of zen and decides to sabotage the tournament by cutting off the power. It just all happens too quickly for me and there’s not much force behind Homer’s enlightenment. Even more troubling is that there’s no resolution of the Bart-Homer relationship which the episode, up until that point, did a fine job of building up.
Aside from that other things that stood out for me were Homer’s dream sequence with the fathers of famous athletes (not exactly funny but quirky in a Homer kind of way) and Bart’s actual care for his teammates which could have been explored more but wasn’t. The little mini-stache on Bart during his gaming was a nice touch too.
All in all this was a solid bounce back episode that just missed the mark towards the end.
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