This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 18
The Simpsons, season 30, Episode 18, “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” is a major move forward in the series’ recent diversification and assimilation of their modernization. Gone are the pointed jabs at the country’s upper management as the show returns to the graffiti tagged neighborhood it all began. The episode itelf begins at KrustyCon, where it’s not weird to find yourself if you’re an adult.
The place has it all, from Krusty Vape Pens to Sideshow Bob’s Prison Art Gallery. The convention culminates in a panel discussion where Krusty, who hates being there yet gets mad if anyone else talks, and his co-stars take the same old questions from the audience. They kill some time with a gag reel of scenes long time viewers should remember from the series, such as when Fat Tony’s goons came to collect a gambling debt in the middle of a televised performance. Then he drops the bombshell, an all-female reboot of Itchy and Scratchy.
Bart and Lisa’s shared reactions are character building and storytelling. With the same exact words, “oh my god,” they express the exact opposite emotions. Bart can’t believe this is happening. Lisa can’t believe this is happening. He is devastated. She is elated. Krusty knew female power was the right bandwagon to jump on because girls love the way he panders to them. The Powerpuff Girls would never let him get away with that kind of misogyny before their reboot. If fits for Krusty, who would only note the long-changing demographic now, to finally give the audience what his executives says everyone wants. But not everyone likes change.
Everybody seems to be gender flipping these days, from Captain Marvel to the Ghostbusters to the Frog Boys in the upcoming TV reboot of Lost Boys. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but there is one thing you can count on. Someone is going to hate the very idea of it before it even makes it to the screen, big, small or animated. The boys declare girls aren’t funny, they’re either hot or they are moms, ask the late Jerry Lewis, who argued the fine points of gender in comedy even after taking heat for it. But a female Mr. Magoo is also just too far for some.
The first words we hear in response to the new Itchy and Scratchy is “it’s different.” Nothing different can possibly be good. Especially in something as tried and true as this cartoon couple. The pairing began with the 1928 short film Steamboat Itchy and traditionalists, like Bart and the boys in his clique, are not having it. They stage a boycott. Everyone meets at Bart’s place to turn off the TV at the exact moment the segment airs.
But Bart sees the reboot and laughs, in spite of himself. The episode, which we watch upstairs with Lisa, is a splatter fest. We get dismembered heads as bongos, followed by more beheadings and finally a satisfying conflagration which even engulfs the viewing audience. We can see it’s over-the-top and panders to exactly what a gore-addicted prepubescent is looking for in between whatever it is Krusty does when the cartoon’s not playing.
Homer gets the best parenting award for the evening however. After luring Bart down to the TV with the promise of seeing some old guy getting hit by a boat at a public gym only to shove Bart’s face in his own public humiliation. Then goes through a history of the boy’s misdeeds almost concluding with “and then I called you in here and laughed at you. I’m still doing it,” before finally concluding what a jerk Bart’s been. This is where Bart gets radicalized. Het becomes the ultimate feminist because he doesn’t judge them as girls, but as pranksters. And, as sixth graders, they are beyond him. This is some next level shit and he respects accomplishment.
“We did it. We prejudged something without giving it a chance, I’m so proud of us,” Nelson says after the female rebooted Itchy and Scratchy segment is over and the boys take off their symbolic blindfolds. From the moment we see the masks we know this is going to be a tribute to the Russian agit-pop group Pussy Riot. Bossy Riot sarcastically mark the old Home Economics class as their war room. That’s where they knitted their masks, and made quite a few other useful things. They also build “awareness bombs,” which they drop all over Springfield. In a bid for gender inclusiveness, they let Bart join as their slave, and call him Novaries.
Meanwhile Millhouse forms a sorority for boys called the Boys Right Association or BRA, which sounds more like a support group. They don’t want to be forced to do girly things like pay attention. The boys here are seen as the minor league deplorables, but their group is really just updating The Little Rascals’ He Man Woman Haters Club. Everything gets twisted. A donut becomes the ultimate symbol of masculinity. All Millhouse’s parents take out of it is that their son has friends.
BRA’s first act of rebellion is the “hate-not-watch” while Bossy Riot’s artful rebellion leaves Springfield living in fear of masked pranksters. Millhouse’s group assembles a BRA burning, the blaze of which was actually an accident, and Krusty caves to the boy’s club and puts Itchy and Scratchy back to where they once belonged. He does it because the patriarchy is a weiner. Bossy Riot finally go too far, threatening the thing both Bart and Lisa love, classic Itchy and Scratch episodes.
In the end it’s all about friends and Lisa finally finds her gang. Bossy Riot threatens gets things done. But they take it to the very streets Lisa is afraid to bicycle. This is a major growth spurt for Lisa. The Simpsons, which traditionally strives to insult both sides of the political spectrum, have most recently been tagged as liberal in some of the most innocuous ways and microaggressive ways. “I don’t know what to be liberal about anymore,” Marge observes early, in a moment of foreshadowing which appears to be a new norm on the series. Lisa has always been the poster-girl for liberal shaming. She indulges in every niche and often is portrayed as a know-it-all, mainly because she actually knows it all, but also with a vaguely superior attitude.
The Simpsons “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” is a formidable and forward thinking entry for the season. This season has consistently rewarded what might be universally accepted bad behavior. Tonight’s main activity is vandalism. Bart doesn’t admit being in Bossy Riot to his sister because she would in any way be happy or admire him for it. He does because she says knowing her brother is doing something she respects would destroy her entire vision of the universe. The episode skewers expectations. Every turn happens because of something somehow taboo, like laughing inappropriately, or admitting to the boys’ club that girls don’t envy them.
“Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” was directed by Chris Clements, and written by Megan Amram.
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: Awkwafina as Carmen, Nicole Byer as Erica, and Chelsea Peretti.
The Simpsons‘ “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” aired Sunday, March 24, 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.