The Simpsons: Pay Pal, review

The Simpsons reminds us that culture’s in decline, deal with it.

The Simpsons are at their best when they’re at they’re worst. Springfield’s first family have a history of being scorned, ostracized, (mm ostrich eyes). Bill Cosby complained about them and gave birth to Dr. Hibbert. George Bush used The Simpsons as an example of the decline of society and he wound up moving across the street. The Simpsons have kept pace with society’s decline and consistently overtaken it, but they do it with such a fine satirical scalpel that they never seem crude or stupid. To me. Maybe that makes me crude and stupid.

Some people are just waiting for The Simpsons to be taken off the air. The show got a big boost last week when they co-branded their episode with the Lego Corporation. It operated on a fewer joke-per-minute gauge and appealed to more people. Not me. I prefer The Simpsons gags coming fast and furious. Tonight’s episode won’t be considered a classic but it was overladen with jokes. Almost every line was a punch line and the lines that didn’t include jokes had visual gags. The breakdown of Lisa’s party was animated joy. Homer’s slow descent into the madness of irredeemable social behavior, driven by Marge’s incessant nagging, was some of the best comic acting on TV. Just the line “as they say in Russia, goodbye in Russian” shows how fantastically flippant their throwaways can be. The Simpsons sum it up best, visually: The embarrassed shopper on the cover of the magazine “Embarrassed Shopper” is reading a copy of “Embarrassed Shopper” with an embarrassed shopper on it.

I don’t know if there’s an unwritten law that any Simpsons episode that opens with an “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon is going to be a rapid-fire joke-fest, just like I’m not sure if there’s a direct correlation between the decline of Spirograph and the rise in gang activity, but empirical evidence seem to bear it out. If I said I’d think about it, I’d be lying, so I’m just going to declare it true. Four out of five taxidermists prefer Simpsons episodes with Itchy and Scratchy, if not Poochie, who didn’t test well. It is always a good omen.

I admit I screamed out loud the first time I saw Itchy rip out Scratchy’s eyes for dinner. Why does that happen to me? It’s a cartoon. It’s an “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon so I know it’s coming. But still I get so involved that I lose myself in the gory punchline. And when I went back to read the menu item “Deconstructed Eyeballs atop Sous-Vide Intestines,” I flinched again. It’s funny how the cartoon world of The Simpsons can be more real to me than real shows about real people, played by human actors, or the occasional trained puppy.

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The Simpsons’ “Pay Pal” finds Homer insulting Booth Wilkes John, played by John Oliver, the new British neighbors, during adult game night and sending his wife Wallace into a spiral of melancholia. I say good for Homer. This is what Simpsons do. It’s almost a civic duty. Marge is always trying to better the family. As a former Bouvier, before she took on the Simpsons DNA, she has the remnants of the social climber. But this time her fears aren’t about how the family is seen by the outside world, she’s okay admitting that their whole social life is watching TV and going to Moe’s. But not for her daughter.

It ain’t gym if a fat kid’s not crying. Lisa is smart, liberal, generous and independent. She’s not afraid of the loneliness that comes with intelligence and independence. Marge is right to worry, wrong to pay for a pal and Bart is right to call her on it. Marge is consistently the rudderless moral center and Bart is consistently the one who steals the rudders. But Lisa learns an important lesson. She can use the pain she causes her mother to get whatever she wants. It’s a kid’s dream. When she rejects her newfound powers, it makes for unexpected poignancy.

The Simpsons “Pay Pal” was a very subversive Mother’s Day episode with a very sweet core.

“Pay Pal” was written by David H. Steinberg and directed by Michael Polcino. The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie, Gil Gunderson and Principal Skinner, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson and Nelson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson, Pamela Hayden as Millhouse. Hank Azaria plays Moe Szyslak. Guest stars: Peter Sagal, Carl Kasell and John Oliver.

But It All Went By So Fast: Evergreen Terrace Block Party: Friday, No Admittance to Evergreen Laners. Evergreen Block Party: Food, Friends, Flanders. Ned’s Heavy Hamburgers, Dr. Hibbert’s Syringe Toss. Ride in Dryer 24 cents, Fabric Softener 50 cents. Homer is reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective TV Watchers. Conversational Jazz Terms: Cool, man; That’s jive; Can I crash on your floor?

Den of Geek Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

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4 out of 5