This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 12
The Simpsons season 34 episode 12 “My Life as a Vlog,” highlights the family’s addiction to clickbait, which could be seen as a grasp for relevancy in an Instagram world, but is really a ratings grab because YouTube is easier to satirize and monetize. It’s not quite the latest thing, but it’s not passe, and it’s more fun to navigate.
“My Life as a Vlog” resembles “Lisa the Boy Scout,” because it is pieced together by snippets of the interconnecting, but standalone, clips which propel the Simpson family into a viral sensation, so much so their ratings move the family to a much bigger house. But the installment is presented as a reality show, because it allows more recognizable reference points, and The Simpsons have not yet had their fill of milking the tropes. It’s obviously designed to irritate, like most reality TV shows. The new house, located in a secret location, is equipped with such features as a Tranquility of Power Sauce meditation fountain, a refrigerator that blends into a wall, and a confessional. Only one of these receives its due comic exploration, and it is a genuine Homer specialty.
The Simpsons have had mostly good results structuring episodes into shorts. From the classic subversive clip show “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” which turned every preconceived notion of The Simpsons on its side, to “So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show,” which clipped the clipped show, these rare entries make them almost as special as “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. “My Life as a Vlog” most closely resembles season 11’s “Behind the Laughter,” because there are scandalous controversies revealed in Act 2. After hearing Patty and Selma’s dulcet moans explain the most grievous in an ASMR video, these become embedded into the subconscious. It is the best sequence of the episode, the scratches on the Bouvier sisters’ vocal cords capture the essence of fingernails across a mic, while giving it much deeper meaning.
The episode opens in the midst of the Simpsons success as viral sensations, and begins the twist of Vlog-celebrity stereotypes inwardly. Bart, known for his epic pranks, really wants to start a charity where he can give Lamborghinis to the homeless. Lisa tries to tune nature. Marge gets a facial. Homer and Maggie kick off the craze with “Cute Baby Gets Stage Fright,” a caught-on-video save of a reluctant child performer, and a dad adept at derring-do. These and puppy videos are ace cards in the hallmark deck of all-age virtual virility. They are the most share-worthy, and present Homer’s best side, the back.
The deep dive into the Internet archives to get to the bottom of the Simpson family’s “rise and fall and disappearance and return to status quo” begins with Comic Book Guy, who is not quite as harsh as he was in his prime. He does go through some of the more problematic early videos uploaded, like “10-year-old drugged out after the oral surgery in the family car,” while the family sings crazy songs, which also captures Homer getting arrested. This is foreshadowing of a coverup, but an open secret. Though it’s never said, Wiggum will bust anyone in a chance to get caught singing on camera.
The most impressive Vlogger is Martin Prince, whose “All the News to Prince” works well as a YouTube offering. This shouldn’t be surprising, as Martin is nothing if not efficient, and has shown his on-air charisma before. He knows how to get a good scoop, and the patter to put it over. This is far more than we can say for the brilliant Professor Frink.
Hank Azaria’s nuttiest professor always comes through with a crunch. Frink’s Vlog, “Frinkilinks,” is an elaborate joke, wrapped in an enigma, and served on a Petrie dish. All-so-appropriately-headed “Conspiracy Glavin,” the whiteboard drawings alone are so hysterically detailed as to provide laughs and conspiracies for years to come. He makes a direct connection between the “magic bullet” and Snowball I, there are over references to pyramid schemes, Nessie and the Loch Ness Monster, and the Dark Web. I only wish I could subscribe. The latte maker aside, however, is the cherry on the joke, flavoring it with silliness, yet giving a deeper insight into Frink, the man behind the beakers.
The Truth Wizard, who is a begruntled cameraman on the Simpsons family set, presents the most “Behind the Scenes” style footage. While all the other videocasts present rumors or far reaching rabbit holes of paranoia, the kid whose nose can’t support thicker glasses gets the best view of the pressure that turned a regular Springfield family into a group of monsters. And while it is true that Bart’s pranks may very well be a very cruel use of Jell-O, the biggest betrayal comes from his environmentally conscious sister.
Lisa wears a Band-Aid over the Earth on her T-shirt, but is tending to a deeper wound. The false front of the nouveau riche activist is a big stain on Lisa’s accumulated rep. One of the interesting things in clip show episodes is the Simpson family are not only playing what they present to the viewer on a weekly basis, but imaging a much deeper life for the individuals in the family. Sometimes it appears, on several episodes like this, that they have more of a business arrangement than a family arrangement. This is a unique way of breaching the fourth wall. The mask is pulled off regularly. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny never revert to their actor selves on South Park. Bugs Bunny did it, often in even the earliest cartoons, giving interviews to reporters to set up scenarios, but it is a rare detail.
As for guest voice appearances, Michael Rapaport’s stint as Mike Wegman goes nowhere, but it is utterly believable that George R.R. Martin is so riveted by Bob the Drag Queen and Monét X Change’s beats he’s lost all interest in a book when two series have already aired about it. The Simpson family’s disappearance is done well, with some true mystery behind it. But the lessons learned by the family are ultimately too sweet after such a bumpy ugly ride.
Online content, and what it’s done to entertainment, is soundly spoofed, with a few very painful realizations. When Krusty the Clown is forced to hold down heart-attack-inducing fried foods long enough to plug his upcoming Bris-Mas special, he accepts “this is what talk shows are now.” When the product placement sponsors begin making demands, no amount of child abuse will stand in their way. The segment where Maggie has to play with the dreaded Nom Noms is a ghastly mix of ridiculous humor and serious childhood perception. The fear is cut short, but the remnants of irrational terrors still come through. The idea that the Simpson family only lives in NFTs of houses is equally brilliant, and frightening all the same.
“My Life as a Vlog” benefits greatly from the change of structure. The clips telling the story each feature secondary characters well, with Moe’s wish not to be canceled still ringing in my ears. Self-referential, self-depreciative jokes are consistent highlights on The Simpsons, and they drive the humor as much as the outward social commentary in the episode. Written by Jessica Conrad, and directed by Debbie Mahan, the installment presents a new way to use the clip format to tell the story, and doesn’t slow down for a moment.