This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 9
Sometimes it takes a classic to make a classic. We learned in 1973 that a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich and real courage has nothing to do with a man with a gun in his hand. After 30 seasons, The Simpsons knows it’s as licked as a science museum ice cream cone before it’s begun but begins anyway and sees it through no matter what lunch Lady Doris or Moe may be dishing out. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. “Daddicus Finch” wins.
It’s hard to be an institution when you began as a scrapper. The Simpsons has been on TV so long people forget it was condemned in the eyes of President Bush and his wife Barbara. Like Saturday Night Live, the initial revolutionary take on the body politic revolves slower, much of this has to do with body mass, at least in Homer’s case. Unlike SNL, The Simpsons is much more difficult to animate live, and while their animation has suffered by sophistication, they have time to finish a book. The book, and the classic movie starring Gregory Peck it is based on, is To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Simpsons shred it with buckshot.
Homer is worried from the very beginning, worried he will have to feign interest in one of his kids. The middle one. The girl with the spiky hair and the saxomaphone. There’s hey hey in the manger in Krusty’s Christmas Special but Lisa was cut from Springfield Elementary’s Second Grade play, now two hours shorter than last year’s. While the edit did whittle precious minutes from the ordeal of auditorium seating and veal bashing, he cries at the idea that she’s crying. First he tries retail therapy, but does not like the options at his local shops. Twerking girl underwear, the edge of 13 bottoms and Jack the stripper shorts for young boys? How long do kids get to be kids nowadays? “You’d be surprised what my eyes have been in contact with,” Homer admonishes before lashing into the sexually charged modern world and the devaluing objectification that goes along with it.
Homer is also concerned about his daughter’s reading material, proving himself very sensitive. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the south a long time ago, he warns, that terrible racism is now everywhere. Lisa is impressionable, especially when immersed in great literature, and seeing her father as Atticus Fitch changes her world view. Homer is hero, like in the book. “The guy who kills the mockingbird,” Homer asks, and ultimately becomes. He finds Lisa’s respect is even better than two Three Musketeers bars being knocked down by a box of Milk Duds in a candy machine.
Soon the father and daughter bond over Boo Radley and Yay Radley supportiveness, but leave poor Bart to walk in another man’s skin. Advised by a therapeutic expert, a Solomon who can discern the elder status of identical twins, to act out for his father’s attention, Bart concocts a classic prank. Without saying what he does with the keys to an important event, this reviewer likens it to an episode on The Sopranos, when Robert Loggia’s Feech La Manna goes one step too far for an auto heist. Like the “All Happy Families…” episode, the incident ends with an angry mob screaming that only the American cars were left behind. Unlike the HBO crime family show, the mob winds up at Evergreen Terrace. They face down something more formidable than a waste management consultant.
Homer’s genteel mannerisms of a bygone era defuse the angry mob into a muttering mass. This is a standard crowd-pleasing gag which goes back to the earliest of episodes. Like a school therapist in a crowded district, the episode moves fast and the quickest bits come the secondary characters. Nelson has a mind-blowing recurring gag as the Javier Bardem character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 thriller No Country for Old Men. Duff Man has a wonderful sequence at Moe’s Saloon when everyone is too depressed to be backdrops in a commercial. He decides to take his crew and cast and make a documentary because “Netflix will buy anything.”
Grandpa’s fight with Bart is a good example of a one-two combination punchline. The elder Simpson needs help getting his dukes put up, and easily gets his grandson to drop his guard for a Three Stooges-worthy TKO. Getting his dukes back down again serves as a kind of elder abuse. Marge is solidly the mom with too much blue hair. She readily accepts that she’s been hearing voices in the shower again, when she could just swear there’s catastrophe afoot, and provides the most daunting of solutions. Bart has the option of anything he wants for revenge, just deciding what that should be could drive a kid mad.
“Daddicus Finch” is a very strong episode for The Simpsons. It finds a different angle for something the series always keeps sharp in its arsenal, the book or movie satire. But the episode works because it moves so fast. The asides, recurring gags and taboo-baiting are perfectly offset by the sweet character development in the creamy middle. Getting the footage from the original 1962 film is also a big plus and a marked departure from the all-animated series. Thus continues our long journey together.
“Daddicus Finch” was written by Al Jean, and directed by Steven Dean Moore.
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, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Jon Lovitz as Llewellyn Sinclair, and J.K. Simmons as Dr. Jessup.
The Simpsons‘ “Daddicus Finch” aired Sunday, December 2 at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Bart’s Chalkboard: “My pre-Christmas behavior really helps the coal industry.”
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.