This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 3
The Simpsons season 29, episode 3, “Whistler’s Father,” puts its lips together and blows. Actually, neither part of that statement is entirely true. The episode, while not as classic as the painting it is named after, is filled to almost overflow with one-liners and sight gags. And, if you really follow Lauren Bacall’s instructions to Humphrey Bogart on how to whistle in To Have and Have Not you would actually produce a Bronx cheer.
Underneath the family dramas at the center of The Simpsons’ “Whistler’s Father,” the family on Evergreen Terrace and the mob family with the burning wine decanters, is a big Bronx cheer to America’s right wing. Bart’s opening chalkboard taunt reminds is that “it’s unfair to judge a president on his first 300 days.” We get the feeling this will be an ongoing numbers game, like how many days it’s been since the last accident at the nuclear plant. And in most ways it is as dangerous.
In a later segment, Maggie, who Homer discovers has a natural talent for whistling, is being honored as most envious baby by the President of the United States. Homer remarks that he wonders who that guy is, he looks so generic. This is because the Simpsons knows their own strength, the paraphrase Popeye, and don’t want to abuse their power. The Simpsons, before anyone else, predicted President Trump. They also predicted that the Fox channel would transform so slowly into a soft porn channel no one would notice.
But we noticed with Fox News. Grandpa may be a hit with the old buzzards at the bird sanctuary, but years of watching the perennially news-challenged opinion channel has turned his blood into bile. Abe isn’t so bile-filled that he can’t tell a real talent babe and all its pratfalls from the obvious myth that all babies love Michael Caine. The final subliminal right wing jab comes when we hear some former child star was arrested for violating the Scott Baio Formerly Cute Law. Fonzie’s teddy boy cousin lost all his wah wah wah dumping on the demise of Richie Cunningham’s sister in knee-jerk quotable punditry that wouldn’t sound so far out of place on this year’s hate-filled American Horror Story: Cult. You lose all cute points when you make the worst assumptions in an obvious attempt to curry disfavor with prevailing winds.
The winds that blow out of Maggie aren’t ill, though. Besides the looney toonage of her tuned lips, the youngest Simpson is also following a proud comedy tradition that goes back to Harpo Marx. The mute brother of the comic quartet could get more laughs and more pathos from his whistles than some comic actors get in a career. His whistles were musical, but also emotional, they could move scenes as dialogue. Maggie flirts with this a few times, just enough to whet the appetite for more. Maggie isn’t just whistling Dixie, or “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” which is much safer whistle than it is to play on the tuba. She learns her talent by mimicking birds as well as learning penny-a-pop tunes. Whistling format radio isn’t as popular as it once was, if it ever was, and when it fell out of favor it also made a major dent in the umbrella industry. Of course Maggie goes on the road to stardom, igniting her older sister Lisa’s fear that she might be the truly gifted Simpson, and of course it is a road that has been traveled by the family before.
Old Abe was a whistler. He was probably a whittler too but didn’t slice off his fingers like he blew out his lips. The poor, dim, old man was a sad, dim young man paying other guys to kiss his girlfriends for him when he was dating. He’d pay for five minutes and they’d go on for hours. It was a good deal back then. Sadly, like his son Homer, Abe’s never learned a thing. Happily for us as we endure his endless recollections of times that never were. Stone age times to some, the age of The Flintstones.
Marge hosts some of her most annoying neighbors for afternoon lemonade, the snobby wife of Dr. Hubbard, the backstabbing mother of Millhouse and the hot but judgmental wife of Reverend Lovejoy, who actually pours the lemonade into a plant in full view of her host, Marge. The cattiest women in Springfield crack the very bedrock of Marge’s self-esteem, her lovely, though anachronistic home and her makeover of the late pickup room at the elementary school, driving her straight to work in a cathouse.
Local mobster Fit Tony, formerly and currently Fat Tony, is looking for a little something special to spice up his upcoming Sex Palace. Marge’s low-brow high fashion sense is perfect. The Springfield mobsters are some of my favorite minor characters. They are a wealth of one liners and killer double entendre crime talk and translation. When Marge says she wants to take out a wall, one of the gang promises that wall will dig its own grave. He also begs Tony to stop bringing up that thing about killing his brother already. It might seem a little odd to always have button men around while choosing tiles, but without their eagle eyed attention, Marge and Fat Tony would both be dead.
The best subtle sight gag of the episode is Martin being taken down from the hook in the late-pickup room after being un-ceremonially pantsed off-camera. The most revealing throw-away line is that Marge believes that Trey Parker does everything on South Park. Bart doesn’t put in much of an appearance in the episode, he’s a little worried about how all talents seem to have passed him by and a little less worried about the mountain lion that Millhouse is keeping in his room. The most heart of the episode is the ending drawing that Maggie draws on Homer after he saves her from whatever competition his precocious daughter cut her teeth on.
“Whistler’s Father” contains an extra couch scene within the episode itself, but unlike most entries where elongated couch gags hide less stellar episodes under a cushion, it is not filler. It is overtly funny and subversively satirical without calling attention to the social wounds it is still inflicting. It is more than a whistle stop to the season.
“Whistler’s Father ” was written by Tom Gammill & Max Pross, and directed by Matthew Faughnan.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum and Moe. Harry Shearer is Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Nick Fascitelli as Professor Whistler and Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony.
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