This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 13
Professor Frink finally gets a payoff in The Simpsons, season 31, episode 13, “Frinkcoin.” Not only because he finally invents something which has economic value, but because he headlines a tight and ultimately sweet episode, which is neither forced nor rushed.
This season has been an improvement over last year’s but remains unnervingly unsatisfying. It’s not only when we compare to the great early seasons, but with current animated comedies. South Park, Family Guy and Rick and Morty have all overtaken the series on a laugh-per-episode basis, and Bojack Horseman took subversive commentary to dark places. The series has been getting deeper into the Simpsons characters in more varied ways now and often gaining more insight. The series has also been finding better ways to use social commentary without being preachy. For the most part, though, as far as laughs, we’re still not filled. It feels like a meal without a dessert.
Tonight’s episode begins with dessert. Marge and Homer take the family out to dinner and Bart figures his parents are sucking up to Lisa so one will be picked as the topic of her Springfield Elementary paper. He dissembles the whole thing as a scam to pit one parent against the other. This subtly mocks all family-based academia and early learning and development. It’s no wonder the first conclusion he jumps to by the niceties is that they’re celebrating Lisa’s last meal.
While the best thing Homer can say for himself is he occasionally pays his taxes, Marge goes straight for the jugular of the white male privilege blowback Lisa will endure if she picks him. So Lisa writes about Professor Frink, the Coke bottle with teeth who is saving the world with science.
“No outside thoughts aloud,” reads the sign outside the modest think-tank Frink shares with a humanities academic. We’ve gotten some information about Professor Jonathan “John” I.Q. Neidelbaum Frink over the years. He is a long-time bachelor, of science. The first time we see him tonight, he’s reading a Mensa quarterly to remind us he has an IQ of 197. He reanimated the corpse of his father, played by Jerry Lewis, in the “Frinkenstein” segment of “Treehouse of Horror XIV” from season 15. Tonight we learn he was the second test tube baby, roundly ignored in scientific and public circles. We learn this accompanied by a great visual gag of his birth announcement which reads: “It’s a nerd.”
Professor Frink opens up entirely to Lisa, possibly because she is a fellow nerd. He tells her his parents had great chemistry, no love, but great chemistry. In spite of a promising beginning, Frink regrets he never quite had his breakthrough, or as he puts it: in a world full of Einsteins, he’s a James Chadwick (who discovered the neutron in 1932). Accolades come and go on The Simpsons and his recollections make it sound like Frink’s done nothing. But this is the man who invented hamburger earmuffs, robot bears and helped Mr. Burns capture the Loch Ness monster. He finally thinks he’s putting his mind to financial use with his latest invention, a new kind of cryptocurrency.
This is pretty heady stuff for the series, if only because even experts don’t quite know what cryptocurrency is. To help explain The Simpsons has to employ both self-affirmed non-nerd Jim Parsons and a medium-level “Schoolhouse Rock” parody. We learn pretty much what we already know; super cool consensus-based cryptocurrency will be the cash of the future once the bugs are worked out. You will keep it in your computer, not in your wallet, and it is all maintained on some cloud.
Frink’s reinvention of the dollar catches on. It even beats Cletus’s roadside corn, and that is currency you can eat. The Simpsons extend that with a pretty good, but obvious visual joke about staring a hedge fund. It propels the town’s resident mad scientist into the top financial position and makes Frink even richer than Mr. Burns, who thinks cryptocurrency is the cash he keeps in his crypt.
Characteristically Burns sets out to destroy, not only Frink, but all cryptocurrency to keep his crown. This is, after all the guy who blotted out the sun, so he’s perfectly within his limits. But He also faces insubordination from his head sycophant. Mr. Smithers begins to treat his boss in a much more, and yet not quite enough, familiar manner that is a reminder of Burns’ loss status. “Just because you chew my food makes you think so we’re on a first name basis,” Burns seethes. And then it gets worse until he’s prescribed a special sycophant pill popular with disabused personal assistants of the stars. What did Bruce Willis do to get so consistently on The Simpsons’ radar? They’ve made many references to his bad behavior, both as a working actor and tonight as a demanding employer whose assistants suffer post-traumatic episodes every time a phone rings. Is this based purely on his public profile or is it something worse? He’s never appeared on The Simpsons, yet has a good track record for voiceover works like Look Who’s Talking. He’s kind of a cartoon anyway.
Burns’ best gag is a shot of his thin and inefficient frame being blown in a slight breeze. Although he does have one moment of regret of some of the things he’s done. This is uncharacteristic of the man, until he explains the money he’s going to make when cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and the peso will buy him 10 NFL teams, but not the Jets.
Frink may know the DNA and chemical breakdown of all life on earth, but he doesn’t know happiness. After he pays off his $10 million student loan and buys himself a one of those pens with four different colors he’s always wanted, he is still a sad man with an audible nasal whistle. Happily, Lisa knows about the importance of friends having gone through so many. Homer reluctantly agrees to show help integrate Fink into the world and he becomes an unexpected hit at Moe’s, rattling off trivia about “Too Tall” Jones even “Too Tall” Jones didn’t know. He really feels rich.
Burns destroys not only the currency, but Frink’s self-esteem, showing him no one will ever truly like him, but will hang out because he’s rich. Frank really does deserve his emotional riches. He really did invent the thing which paid for it and he really does deserve to enjoy things. He’s not doing anything evil with society. Burns inherited the money he earned. Poor Frink, even when he’s rich he’s poor. Frink is human tragedy hiding masquerading in a comedy. But at least he gets much better treatment than Sea Captain, whose filled-in backstory last week turned out to be nothing more than gratuitous red herring. Frink even gets the girl, who knows enough to get a clip for his nose.
Wiggum is the victim of a Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, parody which wants to hold him accountable for the next six Star Wars movies. The Simpsons takes on Amazon deliveries, by having the packages thrown through windows. They also get a jab at Disney, by making it clear we won’t be seeing Patty and Selma smoking cigarettes anymore. They’ve been replaced by mouse ears.
This season has been liberal with short song parodies. The episode closes with Mr. Burns singing a takeoff on “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which goes on so log it spills into the crawl which follows the episode. Of course it also puts that in the lyrics. Burns ends the episode as he begins it, the richest man in the town of 32,000 people.
“Frinkcoin” is a satisfying episode. Professor Frink can’t really be contained a flash drive and his and Lisa’s relationship is ultimately very touching. He maintains his dignity, fulfills his scientific promise and finishes his grand experiment in success. He then goes back to the lab for his next equation. It all adds up to a solid half hour investment.
“Frinkcoin” was written by Rob LaZebnik, and directed by Steven Dean Moore.
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. Pamela Hayden voices multiple parts. Guest voices: Jim Parsons as himself and Ed “Too Tall” Jones as himself.
The Simpsonsepisode “Frinkcoin” aired Sunday, Feb. 23, on Fox.