This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 15
If anyone calls The Simpsons , season 30, Episode 15, “101 Mitigations,” the worst or best episode ever, Comic Book Guy Jeff Albertson would register is disgust throughout the world within minutes, but it may very well be the funniest episode of the season. One of the reasons may be because the episode focuses on Comic Book Guy. This isn’t a guarantee. He’s not the most reliable of co-leads, that’s why he doesn’t get many chances to do so. It is also why he works in surprising ways.
Comic Book Guy, voiced by Hank Azaria, has a wealth of quirks, mostly saved for background material, that haven’t been plundered, which might open a portal to a Sea Captain outing. Tonight’s scenario fits Comic Guy perfectly. Homer takes the kids on a joyride in Comic Guy’s car after hustling a fancy French restaurant to feed them expensive food, but not let them breathe the ambiance. The car was very special to Comic Book Guy, the epitome of a collectors’ car for a true collector, and he is a man who doesn’t throw anything away. He still has his Lucite Xena, the foil of his greatest death ever. The Simpson family outing is like tearing the cellophane off a mint condition collector’s edition comic, which also gets damaged. Comic Book Guy tells Homer he gave him the Enterprise got back the Orville.
When have we ever seen Comic Book Guy be a nice guy? He bought and sold Bart’s soul, revoked Millhouse’s bathroom privileges mid-stream, and passed on Krusty the Clown to play the lead in his the movie adaptation of his comic book series “Everyman.” He closed his store to take umbrage, and opens it while still seething. Of course he’s going to sue. Comic Book Guy slams Harlan Ellison’s story of Superman befriending Lex Luthor as non-canonical, but his own story is actually skewered. Marge Simpson bought The Android’s Dungeon and Baseball Card Shop when he went bankrupt in the episode “Husbands and Knives.” We never got closure on that anecdote, and it would certainly add to his endless list of gripes against the family Simpson.
Marge began the episode relaxing with a massage so yogic she ends up tied in a ball. This opens her telepathic senses. She can hear from afar, with an innate knowledge which goes beyond intuition, her husband is doing something incredibly stupid. This sequence foreshadows her coming to his aid with an almost transcendent head-slap. Homer drives the point home when he tells Bart, Lisa and Maggie to put this on the list of things we don’t tell your mother, a including that there is a list.
The episode opens with Homer almost giving the moral lesson of never taking advantage of someone else’s mistake. And then he gets a magical opportunity dropped in his lap, which would also be the cup holder in it. Homer’s dream car: A 1957 Cadillac Eldorado convertible with leather seats that can melt your ass, and an exhaust so toxic it’s got an ozone layer hole named after it. Lisa knows instantly this is an ethical dilemma, and delivers a definitive Simpsons solution. As Homer shows the kids what cars used to be able to do, until he tries to put the top up and the car starts to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, she puts her objection on record with a “This is morally wheeee.” That split from admonition to the surrender of glee is at the heart of why we continue to identify with the Simpsons kids.
Some things are wrong, but overthinking them not only isn’t going to make them any less wrong. It could even make it less fun. Homer gets the chance to show his kids a great time, but the thing that gives it that special flavor is its illicit nature. It takes Comic Book Guy, a man with an IQ of 170, to explain the legalistic reason, grand theft auto, a lousy game but a real criminal charge. One that can land Homer in a real prison where even the Chaplin has seen and done things he’s not proud of.
The legal system in Springfield is an elastic thing. The plaque on the front of the court building reads “With Justice for Most.” This is evident from the arrest, where Homer is taken away on a motorcycle holding on to Chief Wiggums’ stomach, to the trial, where a judge can be emotionally blackmailed by mitigating factor videos. These can be made surprisingly cheap, but not by Gil, whose hands shake as a cameraman.
The best sequence is the Montgomery Burns mitigation video directed by Guillermo del Toro. The director grew up loving monsters, from King Kong to Godzilla and all the little Godzillas. Mr. Burns may not be as lovable as the creature brought to life by Dr. Frankenstein, or even the one from the Black Lagoon, but he is a monster. At birth, Monty’s own mom didn’t want to suckle him and he was raised by a pet gorilla, who also attended his most important functions. Burns’ best delivery is his “who are you?” greeting to Del Toro, as if he didn’t pay for the whole thing. The video is very persuasive, and moves Homer, and this reviewer, to the epiphany: “Wow maybe I’ve been wrong all along about evil.”
Homer’s video is a bit more problematic. Homer explains to the judge why he did it. To pass on to his children his love of what our country does best, build cars 60 years ago. The kids start lining up potential new dads. The “nod your head” exchange is a wonderful bit, as is Moe having to question if the interviewer needs human words. His endorsement calls Homer a real family man who always brings his kids in the bar. All Principal Skinner will admit is the Simpson patriarch has two children enrolled in his school.
But Comic Book Guy has the last word in court, and it is poignant and has the weight of law added to the plaintiff’s already heavy girth. He is obviously on the verge of winning the case when Homer tries to settle out of court. Comic Book Guy admits the grudge is still inside him but it takes the wisdom of a remedial teacher at Brooklyn’s Buchanan High School to educate the two men. Homer got one thing from his dad, a Welcome Back Kotter key ring. Once that’s destroyed everything is even, admittedly a low bar, and Homer would actually be Comic Book Guy’s best friend, an even lower bar.
The episode ends at Comic-Con, which Homer attends as The Hulk, and Comic Book Guy plotting to steal Han Solo DNA from Harrison Ford himself. But Bart gets the last irreverent laugh. No, he doesn’t go after the government. He finds a good use for the school computer: getting out of detention.
As the opening couch gag suggests, The Simpsons have been on such a sweet sweep they could be spritzed out of soda dispensers and are almost as funny. But the last two episodes have been bucking both trends by rewarding bad behavior. What did we learn from this episode? Certainly not the intended lesson that moments of pure joy always have consequences, it is German is earth’s closest language to Klingon. The episode is funny and revelatory, though not always tummy rumbling funny. “101 Mitigations” contains a good mix of the clever and the silly, with a moral compass set on cruise control.
“101 Mitigations” was directed by Mark Kirkland, and written by Brian Kelley, Rob LaZebnik and Dan Vebber.
Bart’s Chalkboard: Chili fries do not go in like a lamb and out like a lion.
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 Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Guillermo del Toro as himself.
The Simpsons‘ “101 Mitigations” aired Sunday, March 3, at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.