This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 5
The Simpsons season 29, episode 5, “Grampy Can Ya Hear Me,” turns up the volume on Abe Simpson just as he runs out of things to ramble incoherently about. Grampa Simpson’s hearing problems have been a running gag since The Simpsons earliest episodes, but you didn’t hear that from me. His chronic audio impairment is his most endearing characteristic, after his erratic memory loss and unforgettably endless reminiscences. Without misheard pronouncements, where would we have gotten such classic lines as “I did the icky?” By regifting a hearing aid on the old coot, The Simpsons have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and they must atone.
The episode opens promisingly. The Simpsons family takes Grampa to the Springfield Planetarium to celebrate his 87th birthday. That’s older than some planets, by usually-infallible Lisa’s calculations. She forgot to carry the one, 999,999,999 times on a one page paper she turned in on the universe. Between what she doesn’t know and Abe can’t hear, you would think this episode could fit whole football stadiums, complete with their adjacent parking lots, into the delivery. But it never reaches full volume.
The animators added details to the opening this season. Small but densely detailed frames are now pushing their way into the already overcrowded credits, reminding us of the kid who was forced to climb the rope in gym until his heart exploded. The animation has become even sleeker this season, which is a perennial letdown, but not an astronomical loss.
The goings on at the Planetarium are fun. We get to wonder at the weight of Homer on the Moon. Former plant Pluto promises a comeback, even if he has to break Halley’s Comet’s tail. This all goes in one ear and out the other with Abe, who lived long enough to see his prejudiced beliefs come back in fashion he can’t even hear the big bang.
Lisa can’t get the sound of her own miscalculation out of her head. It grows exponentially until she asks Bart to fit a little breaking and entering into his busy prank schedule. El Barto is shaking up a snake to exchange for the usual junk mail found in Principal Skinner’s box. With the events that are about to be uncovered, you have to wonder who is the real victim of the pointy haired hooligan’s prank. It isn’t Skinner, who is reduced to living in the basement. And it really isn’t his mother, who put him there with her callous, smothering self-interest. It is the snake.
Skinner moved out because he found an acceptance letter his mother lied to him about. Ever since he was a kid, Skinner wanted to be a drummer in a marching band. His mother wanted quiet. Apparently, his life would have gone in a completely different trajectory. We could buy this if we didn’t already know that the man we know as principal Skinner is actually Armin Tamzarian, an army buddy Skinner traded lives for. We accept this as easily as Barney accepts Skinner as a brother, with a noogie sandwich. Bart is amazed merely by getting to hold the only college acceptance letter he’ll ever see.
Grampa doesn’t hear the worst things that have been said of him when he overhears the whispered asides that have been passing through downturned lips for generations. But he has to hear the best line of the night: “We didn’t mean the mean things we meant. We just said them because we meant them.” Homer tells it like is it, even when it’s not.
Lisa doesn’t fool anybody. Bart left so many clues to the break-in that even Springfield’s fattest could figure it out without even the aid of donut-sugar fingerprints. No one cares either because both Lisa and nicotine gum are the only things maintaining Springfield Elementary School’s status quo and the students inside the learning curve. The first tag sees Skinner living in a new freedom, but is really just another chance for The Simpsons to dump on Game of Thrones.
The second tag is the ever popular ditty, “Nobody Knows Hans Moleman.” This is a dark take on “Everyone Loves Ned Flanders,” the theme song made up for the “The Adventures of Ned Flanders” tag that gave the April 15, 1993 episode The Front enough broadcast minutes for network standards. That was the same episode that included the quote above when Abe mistook Itchy, Scratchy’s sidekick, for Icky while he was collecting money for telling a cat and dog what to do. A classic episode that skewered TV violence and Yale-educated comedy writers. The short running time of the episode meant it was lean and mean. The afterthought was a giggle on top of a lot of laughs. Tonight’s was a muted blind item distraction from a show that was mercifully short.
We’ve gone over the Cough Gag-to-Laugh ratio discrepancies in other reviews, the basic idea is that the longer the couch gag the lamer the episode. The tags do not serve the same purpose. Some tags are now classics, like the closing song to the Scorpion episode. This sad tag on a sadly undernoticed, usually while walking in front of cars, is, even more sadly, somehow funnier than the episode proper and that’s not proper.
“Grampy Can Ya Hear Me” is a stifled laugh at best. It doesn’t go from the whisper to the scream of the hearing tests held at Springfield’s old folks’ home, but whistles away instead, like a balloon that has no bearing. It runs out of air in spite of three separate storylines. There are jokes, they work, but with diminishing returns. Like marching band as an art form, both the music and the marching suffer, as do the abrasion and relief. Relief until the audience learns about the tags.
“Grampy Can Ya Hear Me” was written by Bill Odenkirk, and directed by Bob Anderson.
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 Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers.
Chalkboard: Hooligan is not a profession.