This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 15
The Simpsons season 31, episode 15, “Screenless,” gives up is Wi-Fi to gain the series’ soul. The Simpson family bravely takes on the cellular menace, which is far worse than any Phantom Menace because we see it all around us. It robs us of our imaginations and sense of civil community. It takes children to smaller places where they can only get in virtual trouble and Robocalls keep you near a device with a reminder every 18 minutes. Although I can see Marge being courteous to the disembodied voices of our future robot masters.
The episode opens with a parody of the true crime drama. Their “Making a Murderer” grew up in Killville, Wisconsin. the “convict me” state, where the only right you have is to remain silent, apparently, and maybe get a shot at tampering evidence. Netflix promises close-ups of the residents who were deemed most likely to murder. And then it all falls apart. If only the jury knew there were no victims they might not have thrown an innocent man in prison. But they still may have. The Simpsons adds that to discovery to leave our verdicts hung. They’re telling us the long arm of the long-form news documentary genre has overreached.
The writers forgot that Homer’s brother, played by Danny DeVito, invented a machine which translates what babies are saying with the premise of the episode: sign language is a good tool for communication. The biggest laugh of the episode comes after we experience how Maggie hears everything her family around her is saying. Lisa bemoans how those with the most to say have the least ability to do it. Then Grandpa comes through the room babbling incoherently. It is perfectly set up and unexpectedly executed and lands.
Marge takes all the fun of baby sign language by angsting over a fun week of repetitive drills. Maggie can express to Marge that she doesn’t want to see Star Wars because she used to be baby Yoda. Maggie signs “fire, “monster garbage smell” at Patty and Selma’s place but she always sleeps so well there. Maggie’s lessons are so successful Marge is looking at educational forums which only ask for students’ brains when they die. But just as she makes the connection, social commentary throws red tape on it. The educational forum lost its government funding and the family stopped paying attention.
Marge demands the family give up their phones. Lisa’s suggestion the family have a conversation gets a big laugh, from the family who has no intention of missing a single Tik Tok post. Marge points out Steve Jobs never gave his kids an iPad. The family shoots back a reminder of Marge’s own social media presence. “Cake fails are important,” she pleads. “If people fail at cake they need to be told.” This is so perfectly Marge. It is completely relatable to how she’s taken on the reality of homemaker and yet it adds the twinge of her addictive personality. She’s the one with the gambling problem.
I was very impressed by Marge’s covert tech. We all know how much she can hide in her hair, but the Apple Watch she keeps on her shin spans two investigative gadgetry classics. It is basically a Dick Tracy watch you wear on your shin, which is much more convenient than Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone on Get Smart. The CONTROL spies had to have all their conversations in one place, ostensibly while standing on one foot.
Like most of Marge’s ideas, going all the way back the earliest seasons, the demand is successful. It not only works, but the idea spreads, which also happens a lot with Marge’s ideas. Bart finds an old toy spaceship and throws all his voices into playing it. The fun is so infectious the bullies not only talk back to Bart’s “”Jupiter One,” but build one. The best part of theirs is it can fire photon torpedoes at nerds. Lisa rediscovers the tactile pleasures of Library card stock and hand written notes. Homer masters newspaper puzzles. It is very funny when he says he’d always assumed the Daily Jumble proofreader had a stroke. Everyone is happier. But, as is also the case with Marge’s ideas, she is her own worst enemy. So when she can’t look up a recipe on the internet, she goes that one extra step which will push the family back to the status quo.
Marge is the enabler of the family. She is America’s national enabler. When she’s the one with the problem, she is the queen of denial. She books the family at the “Commitments” rehab center where they have Dr. Drew on call at all times. To paraphrase Homer’s assessment of Dr. Joyce Brothers, I find Pinsky’s credentials highly questionable. But the place has a zen garden for Lisa, real guns for Bart, which lets him take a shot for and at the Second Amendment, and the notion that fornicating is better than listening to braiding podcasts. Homer agrees to live in a world without online solitaire. Marge gives up her Instagram, but as we all know, has to retain her Facebook page because those accounts cannot be deleted.
It’s one step too far. Tech is more addictive than heroin but is that a bad thing? This nation was founded on families facing the problems of “staying together without driving each other crazy,” Homer says. They listened to people play the fiddle until radio came along. After World War II TV kept people in their living rooms and we finally have devices that can isolate us completely. It keeps the American family safe from itself. We know it’s true because Homer posted it on Reddit. Homer makes a few astute and eye-opening observations during the episode. Cheerios really are made to look like donuts that are far away, and the dancing frog from the old Looney Tunes cartoons would cook up nice.
The Simpsons also shows how tech doesn’t really change anything. Early in the episode, Marge is horrified to see Bart showing Maggie a video on the importance on making sure all the warriors your kill in a game are actually dead, and reads the baby a fairy tale which opens with a witch who face is covered in blood as she screams she’s burning alive.
Unlike getting semen samples for DNA testing, the escape from the evil rehab center is as easy as the sounds of the Little River Band. “Screenless” is a sweet episode because it promises that families can be in the same room as each other and still be together. The Simpsons continue to tackle more contemporary problems, even if they’re a season or two behind. They continue to put ludicrous spins on social ills. Imagine a billion dollar tech mogul feeling guilty about pushing sleep disruptive technology.
“Screenless” was written by J. Stewart Burns and directed by Michael Polcino.
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: Werner Herzog as Dr. Lund and Dr. Drew Pinsky as Himself.
The Simpsons episode “Screenless” aired Sunday, March 8, on Fox.