If there’s one thing I can confidently say about this season its that there have been no back to back ‘bad’ episodes, thankfully. Last week was a bit of a let down but this week The Simpsons bounce back with a different kind of episode that felt both familiar and fresh. It also cements this season as being one of the better ‘latter day’ seasons.
The episode takes the form of a documentary from Dateline: Springfield with a stellar and unrecognizable performance by Liev Shrieber as the narrator. The intro was particularly funny showing his morning routine, which involved careful throat maintenance. The entire way to work he gargled salt water; an act that would be literally impossible to do considering how disgusting that is (I speak from experience having many sore throats in my lifetime). But I digress.
The mystery centers around Lisa’s stolen college fund of $670.42 which was hidden by Marge and Lisa in a can of cleaning cleanser. As the narrator puts it, “her dream of going to college for three weeks, without a meal plan,” is now ruined. Like any good procedural the episode examines all the witnesses and evidence in a variety of ways: interviews (both in person and anonymously), surveillance footage and some funnily inept reenactments. These were a highlight for me because the actors wore terrible wigs and costumes that only marginally looked like the family and their accents were slightly off. Even the way they acted was funny to watch, like they were being bad on purpose almost. The one thing that would have taken this over the top is if they had any of the previous actors who played The Simpsons from episodes prior.
The episode itself wasn’t wall to wall laughter but it kept me engaged with the mystery and well timed funny sequences. Everyone was a suspect. Bart needed the money to cash in on the latest slime craze at school. This led to a neat Breaking Bad parody which is always appreciated. Homer was cut off at Moe’s for a bar tab that was close to the amount stolen. This led to an at once disgusting/hilarious revelation of a drunken Homer getting home drunk, spilling pasta all over the kitchen and then licking it off himself (all done by the paid actors who did not enjoy what they were doing). Lastly, Marge was ratted out by Helen Lovejoy for gambling and Lisa was tempted to get a new saxophone but both were saved by video surveillance.
Marge and Homer eventually kick the camera crews out and Marge reveals to Homer that she was the one who stole the money and used it to start a line of snap-on coasters. Marge has been known to make rash decisions in the past and while this may seem out of character it feels almost earned in a way. The episode periodically points out Marge’s obsession with cleanliness even going so far as to have her mention the use of coasters early on. But beyond these obvious clues Marge offers a succinct justification for her actions which actually makes sense: “life to you is an adventure…for once, I was gambling on myself.” This line speaks volumes to a character who almost always plays by the book and has to consistently watch her other half routinely break that book and get away with it. That Homer understands this and then lies to the kids to protect her is a nice touch.
While the family was center stage there were some notable side performances here. Chief Wiggum got a good chunk of screen time just highlight how terrible he is at his job, the belly rub scene was in keeping with his childlike demeanor though. There were also two good cameos. One by Raphael, Springfield’s resident wise-guy, who is the 911 dispatcher Lisa gets when she calls to report the missing money. His insistence on her being polite is just classic Raphael. The other was by Disco Stu, who overheard Homer drunkenly eating the pasta via a butt dial to his phone. That he mistook it for a new kind of music and lamented on his own career was also just perfect.
So, all in all a very decent episode. It had a genuine mystery and the documentary style kept it engaging. There were some funny moments but the best parts of the episode were the characters themselves who were allowed to both show off their best sides as well as being fresh.
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