This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 21
On The Simpsons, season 30, eisode 21, “D’oh Canada,” the Simpsons leave America to visit America junior. The opening couch gag puts the family in a sequence of TV classic comedies which include The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and Cheers. Thirty seasons in, The Simpsons have been part of legendary television for quite a while. Even those who don’t follow them know them, and those of us who know them, know them well enough to forgive them. The series reached its peak and now only occasionally climbs to the same heights it did in its heyday. “D’oh Canada” isn’t quite one of these. Even some of the most middling episodes of The Simpsons contain flashes of brilliance, and “D’oh Canada” bristles enough to rise above this.
The Simpsons have a long history of visiting other countries. Some of these nations they like. Others they rip to shreds. This episode doesn’t quite go either way. It begins in a place that will never decline because it was never that great, upstate New York, and in doing so they remind us about one of the things that makes the series great: its music. The “New York, New York” takeoff is dead on. It is as memorable a parody as their Capital City theme. This is a city that never wakes. It even has a Frank Sinatra-style signoff “Benedict Arnold fought here, baby.” The musical satire doesn’t start with the song in the episode. Each of the themes behind the classic TV shows are variations on the source material. They’re not the exact same songs, but stylistically recognizable, with a touch of mirth.
The Simpsons are trying to take advantage of all the points they earned while racking up credit card debt, and they start with a stay at the Second Best Hotels in Niagara Falls. On the way, they reference what is becoming a new punch-line, Circuit City, in this case overrun by dogs. What We Do in the Shadows staged their werewolf feud on the roof of an abandoned Circuit City a few weeks ago. The stop gives Marge and Homer to indulge in some heavy double entendre by leaving it to the audience to fill in the gag. Homer suggests he and Marge do a little bouncing around on their own. Marge says that’s more romantic than what he said at Fort Dix. This joke works whether the audience makes up their own payoff, or allows it to percolate in their minds. This foreshadows more insidious censorship.
The first clue we get to how The Simpsons is going to take on Canada is Lisa’s medical attention gets to her immediately on the other side of the Falls she’s fallen into. Homer and Abe went to Canada to score prescription drugs in the past, but for the most part the country hasn’t been given much more thought than the syrup you pour on your pancakes. Lisa gets caught up in the maple. She bemoans the unfair comparisons between the neighboring nations. But it only begins with how America should have free health care, regardless of how the cost would mess with the tax breaks wealthy corporations desperately need. Then they get down to the business of political satire, told in the broadest terms.
Lisa is aggrieved by her country. She lives in fear of its oppression, and oppressors like the dreaded El Barto who is still free to roam the streets. Bart doesn’t have much to do in this episode, so his contribution should be noted because it sets Lisa up to offer voter suppression. Marge shushes Lisa immediately, which actually is the perfect end line. But then the writers let censorship do its job. Lisa starts to call the current president a son-of-a, and is shushed. She continues and is shushed. The Canadian healthcare provider finally has to knock her out with whatever is in her intravenous.
The New York Dolls might say Lisa is the midst of a personality crisis and her friends don’t want to hear another speech, but the segment is telling. Lisa is always finding fault in the country, even as she has been the most patriotic character in the family. All the Simpsons complain about some aspect of governance, but only Lisa’s disenchantment has ever been addressed personally by a sitting president, although, she didn’t get assigned her own hockey team. Sadly, like Homer receiving the Denver Broncos over the Dallas Cowboys for his stint as Scorpio’s corporate motivator, Lisa gets an also-ran. The episode also makes fun of Detroit sports, remaining impartial.
At first America’s “Ned Flanders to the north” is lauded for their progressive ways. But something off is always lurking beneath it. The kids at the Alanis Morisette Elementary School learn about climate change as part of their curriculum, but also learn to never ask directly for something they want. Lisa gets immediate access to a Skype chat with Prime Minister Trudeau, who is quite impressive, especially how he gets out of having to answer any questions about the SNC-Lavalin Affair.
This is really a Marge and Lisa episode, and offers insight into their relationship. Marge can still pull out the mommy card when she needs to, but she still respects Lisa enough to let her make up her own mind. Except about the fake Canadian accent Lisa affects. It is a relief when she forces her daughter to drop it. Homer and Bart make due as the real Americans Homer has always espoused. They keep enough of the house clean to fake a Skype video call.
At first it seems like the whole thing is going to be wrapped up too quickly for such a big premise. After weighing the pros and cons of nationalism, it is Louie Armstrong, Satchmo to his friends and fans, who seals the deal. But even he skips over the border for legal pot. It is sweet how Lisa compares America to an old boyfriend whose gotten fat and lost his hair. It is even sweeter that Marge doesn’t realize her daughter just described Homer. But after Springfield’s biggest smarty pants leaves the country, the country doesn’t want her back, telling her there is no re-entry without a hand stamp. And they are all out of hand stamps. So far, no one’s been barred from coming back to America after being granted political asylum from it.
But The Simpsons make their point: A vote for Quisp is a vote against Quake in America, but for every Martin Short there is no shortage of Shatners in Canada. Both countries commit the same crimes. Both countries only take half measures for their populations. Lisa’s return comes with an homage to It’s a Wonderful Life, albeit with a little Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, as not only does Lisa learn there’s no place like home, but she misses the surly Comic Book Guy, though not quite most of all. His “thanks for nothing” is truly reward enough.
The episode leaves lingering questions, though. What does the spleen do? It filters something, but what? And where is Maggie during all this? Here the Simpsons, as a family, is looking to score points. And we know Grandpa’s liver, which also filters something, is acting up. But we don’t know who is watching the baby once she gets out of the pool.
“D’oh Canada” continues the run of successful episodes The Simpsons have aired this season, but is still not quite up to the standards of a Simpsons classic. It doesn’t pull punches, exactly, but there are no knockouts here. Technically, the song parody comes the closest. It is satisfying to see some extremely pointed commentary but the laughs are still muted. The jokes are still more clever than hilarious.
” D’oh Canada” was directed by Mathew Nastuk, and written by Tim Long and Miranda Thompson.
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 voices: Judy Blume as herself and Lucas Meyer as Justin Trudeau.
The Simpsons‘ ” D’oh Canada” aired Sunday, April 28, at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Bart’s Chalkboard: HAW HAW! (with Nelson Muntz duct taped to the other side).
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.