The Simpsons Pairs an Unlikely Duo to Tackle Big Tech

The Simpsons find insidious comforts and temptations in multiplayer reality in “Game Done Changed.”

When Bart discovers a profitable glitch in an online game, he ropes Principal Skinner into his lucrative criminal enterprise. Marge and Maggie discover paradise in the "Game Done Changed" episode of THE SIMPSONS airing Sunday, Dec 4 (8:00-8:31 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Photo: 20th Television

This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.

The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 10

The Simpsons plays to all its strengths in “Game Done Changed.” The episode acts on the title to expand their visual representation while presenting two fully-realized, original storylines set firmly in the now. The Simpson family unit turns in a magical cautionary tale, and Bart shows Principal Skinner how to throw caution to the wind. The rest of us get an education on the finer uses of desktop computers.

The opening sequence is particularly violent, and absolutely worth the pre-aired warning because of the reference to the Ecumenical Council. “Future War: Death Cuts” and “Future War II: Brain Carnage,” Bart’s dream games, are loosening his uncivil tongue, and the family wants him to watch his mouth as much as his screen. This isn’t the first time The Simpsons equate games with behavior, but it is their first solution, the perfect video game: one the player doesn’t like, but can’t stop playing, and has nothing to do with “Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.”

While this is the parents’ sweet spot, Marge, Maggie, and Homer, land in a virtual wonderland even warmer than a microwaved dragon codpiece. Marge’s realization that Maggie is talking through tiny pictures is a beautiful moment, which is not at all corny. The sequence works so well emotionally because Julie Kavner allows Marge to get so absolutely excited in the discovery, it is tangible. We can feel the exuberance through the unfamiliarly rendered face in the game.

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The desire to communicate is basic, and The Simpsons routinely explores Maggie’s communication because it is a universal family desire. In the most recent “Treehouse of Horrors,” she spelled out “don’t leave” in her letter blocks. Homer’s brother Herb, played by Danny DeVito in “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?,” invented a baby translator.

Learning how Maggie wants to be an elephant doctor is transcendent when rendered through a massively multiplayer online real player game. It is especially funny how the initial arc of communication comes right after Marge says she gave Maggie the tablet to shut her up. When Maggie tells Homer she loves him, his response is magnificently overplayed and fully within his character.

The primary plot vaguely resembles the film Jerry and Marge Go Large, where a puzzle-solving cereal box manager cracks a lottery through a glitch. The Springfield Elementary game scam entails an excruciatingly intricate way to make money, which is as real as most payoffs collected online. Converting Boblox into cash is a full-time job, and a great gag.

Skinner is absolutely harried at the start of the episode, so it is easy to picture him going along with the flow, and particularly gratifying to see his actions changing from their usual rut. The principal is under pressure from Superintendent Chalmers over a Chinese news piece on the death of American education. Springfield Elementary is the featured institution, and Ralph Wiggum is the poster child. While some of this can be attributed to the lead in the pipes, the superintendent blames the principal. Everyone calls Springfield Elementary a train wreck, and Skinner is the broken down, sad sack, never-was in a cheap shoveling coal.

Skinner and Bart have very good chemistry. They’ve worked well together since school began and learning was afoot. “The glitch is going to make us rich” promise is laid out like a deal with a devil. It’s always handy to have a principal in the pocket, and a welcome relief to see Bart as utterly corrupt, and overtly corrupting. The scene where Skinner suggests turning after-hours computer lab lessons into midnight basketball is inspired educational criminality, and it is fun to see the bonding between the good principal who learned from the best, or the worst. Corruption and sweetness are the two main ingredients of the installment. The other masterstroke of the episode is Lisa is not the wet blanket that smothers all the fun.

The most satisfying and revealing bonding moment skirts on mob behavior. When the two employ strong arm tactics to stop “jive ass snitches” from telling their parents about “this victimless thing of ours.” Martin steals the scene with his “You sick bastards” read. He stays so firmly within character, bent but not broken, righteous with knowledge which is, sadly, useless as a weapon.

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One highlight is Skinner’s desperate prayer, which comes out in song. What better way to introduce a magnet arts school. It is a dream for a lazy education administrator. There is no testing to standardize, academic benchmarks cannot be exacting when grading acting. Who is to judge a bad pirouette from an interpretive pirouette? The school won’t win any football games, but they might churn out one famous grad, even a Josh Gad would do. Bart’s dream is characteristically simple, to get out of a jacuzzi on a helicopter to moon people below.

The turf wars are expertly rendered, especially a killing executed by unicorns, Milhouse’s second favorite magical horse. The competition is unexpected, it thoroughly sucks you in and gets better with the uneven conflict and the empathetic coverage. Guest voice Montse Hernandez exerts such enthusiasm, she could have narrated the entire play-by-play of the turf war game action. The commentators Astrid and French Fry are wonderfully perceptive, I love how they note how Nelson looks cute in his vest.

The nemeses are extremely formidable. A Montessori school called the David Geffen Center for Social Justice, the administrators are versed in “progressive school mumbo-jumbo,” and the students have the unbreakable self-esteem of unearned self-confidence. Skinner can’t even quote The Wire to them because one of the student’s dad directed three episodes during the dockyard season.

Iit exciting to see Skinner go rogue as the episode’s “Manson Lamps” character. Skinner’s mother is not watching in this episode, which means he can almost get away with anything. It’s good to see him embrace it. This is a welcome departure for Skinner. His cry to “paint the streets with the blood of tomorrow’s leaders” is heartfelt and long overdue.

Bart is surprisingly adept in negotiations, pulling back as the more professional criminal. He has his fun, makes money, knows the score, and when to get out. If we’ve learned nothing from movies, we should at least know to take the deal, before it turns into a threat. He’ll do well as long as he stays on the wrong side of the law. We can believe in Bart, unless he invests in bitcoin. It is a good sign that Bart still has the sense to disable the surveillance cameras.

The humor is subtle. There are no extreme laugh lines, but the stories are entirely intriguing.  Seeing the scared look on Ned’s face is the icing on the cake of a perfectly executed episode. “Game Done Changed” is artful, creepily subversive, and completely satisfying. Especially in the one open question, and seeing Lisa eat cold corn out of a can. All the arcs worked. The Simpsons are not refitting other episodes, all the plots are original, equally balanced, and with dire concluding consequences. Everything works out in the most creepily skewered way, and there are mysteries to spare. A fun and revealing installment.

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4.5 out of 5