This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 1
The title of The Simpsons, season 31, episode 1, “The Winter of Our Monetized Content,” may speak loudest towards where the series is headed. At 31 seasons, the series is now in fairly uncharted territory. No scripted show has lasted this long, certainly no comedy, a genre which has to stay fresh and relevant even as most of the jokes will become dated. The season opener appears to know this and pulls out every trick in a bid for relevancy.
The main plot involves viral videos. Bart and Homer hit a sweet analytic while beating on each other. The paint fight between Homer and Bart is great and deserves to go viral. It is a throwback to the chaos of earlier seasons and breaks a fourth wall which only exists in the world of animation. El Barto shows what made him famous by spray painting Homer’s face yellow, and Homer draws his features back using a magic marker. This is a brilliant example of double surrealism. The fights which Homer and Bart film move into surreal violence as the episode progresses. Bart throws sizzling bacon on Homer and they inflict damage on each other which would send non-yellow people to the hospital, or worse.
This is a staple for both the series and animation itself, from Homer falling down a rocky canyon on Bart’s skateboard in The Simpsons‘ second season episode “Bart the Daredevil,” to Wile E. Coyote taking mountainous falls. But here the violence also comments on the human nature which makes these kinds of violence compelling click bait in the real world.
The episode concludes with what is supposed to be, well, maybe, if they’re up for it, a duel to the death. This is what everyone on YouTube is really looking for, the episode seems to be saying. Video monetizer Warburton Parker, played by comedian John Mulaney, certainly believes so. But he would have to as his backstory is truly awful. He teaches Bart and Homer that violence is the best. It doesn’t work out so well for Lisa, however.
Lisa’s story begins as a takeoff on the Netflix true crime series Making a Murderer. Titled “Making a Misbehaver,” in the episode, it gives Lisa the chance to expose Misbehavior Solutions, a Torture 500 company which has privatized detentions, effectively outsourcing the breakfast club. Kids are given detention for even the most minor offenses and forced to labor in a workplace so horrible it hasn’t been seen in Springfield since the days of Camp Krusty. Yes, even worse than the conditions the outsourced animation team of The Simpsons even has to endure. This is a first offense for Lisa, who is given a week in scholastic stir. But she doesn’t do her time sitting down. She dips into Sally Field’s performance in Norma Rae to stir back. What’s not to like?
Marge doesn’t have a lot do to this episode, besides making both consolatory and celebratory shish kabobs. She turns Homer’s public sports humiliation from his phone in call to the podcast “Tackling Dummies with Anger Watkins” into his “Walkoff Homer with Homer Simpson” response with a simple stab in spite of her better judgment. But we get to see her in a losing battle with her mind, a trick usually reserved for Homer, whose lost many battles with his.
She also plays a kind of referee to the funniest conversational bit of the evening. After Bart and Homer have their first fight, ostensibly ruining his, show each go off on their own tangential tirades. Bart concludes with his destruction being the best thing about the show and Homer he should have led with it. Homer bemoans the fact that he was going to change the NHL with his idea for morbidly obese goalies. Much of the actual words are lost because they say this simultaneously, but that actually makes it funnier. The episode is littered with great one-liners and asides. Although Homer’s angry realization that Muhammad Ali never fought Cassius Clay is up against his monorail flashback for hysterical confusion.
The minor characters have interesting moments. Principal Skinner has his first wartime flashback in a long time proving food fights haven’t lost their disruptive edge since Animal House. Mr. Burns gets an alert whenever anyone’s getting rich, which makes perfect sense. After bad fan promise to Homer costs him his bar, Moe goes back to his people, climbing into a manhole cover and disappearing into the netherworld. Chief Wiggum finds reason to give guns to bullies.
The conclusion is reminiscent of the season 6 episode “Lisa on Ice.” Bart and Homer may not be deader than MySpace, but ultimately are both losers in the cutthroat world of viral videos. Also, the finger-sniffing monkey takes on whiff too many.
In a world where judgment is meted out in likes and clicks, “The Winter of Our Monetized Content” is a share-worthy start for season 31, though it isn’t exactly breaking new ground. The Simpson family should have been social media celebrities years ago, and a lot of the commentary is a little behind the time, though not particularly dated. The social commentary is inherent without being overbearing and the laughs add up, maybe not to the viral contagion of early seasons, but steady enough to keep watching.
“The Winter of Our Monetized Content” was written by Ryan Koh, and directed by Bob Anderson.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, 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 voice: John Mulaney as Warburton Parker.
The Simpsons episode “The Winter of Our Monetized Content” aired Sunday, Sept. 29 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.