This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 15
The Simpsons Season 32, episode 15, “Do PizzaBots Dream of Electric Guitars?,” is a reaffirmation of all things Simpson. It is off the rails as far as timelines go, but captures the classic subversion of all things sacred. The episode is about rekindling the sparks of youth which have burned out and the destruction of memory, specifically childhood memories. The first thing the episode tackles is what we know about the Simpson family.
The episode opens in a flashback to the 1990s, when Homer was a teenager at his first job. Of course, we know he’s actually already married with two kids, and starring on a show which has been on TV since 1989 at this point in his life, but after 32 seasons of The Simpsons, there are only so many satirical scenarios left to dredge for a backstory. In this timeline we get to see Hip Hop Homer, aspiring DJ and lover of the Humpty dance. Abe thinks his son is wasting his life. The premise of the opening segment is the 8 Mile story, which The Simpsons has mined before for inspiration. It’s crystal Pepsi clear.
Non-canonical episodes of The Simpsons are very often series highlights. The “Treehouse of Horror” episodes consistently rank at the top of every season. The writers don’t have to deal with everyday terrors like character continuity, or fit into any timeline. Springfield residents can be dispensed at whim, and not just Hans Moleman, who can be killed in any manner of ways during a regular episode, occasionally more than once.
Gil Gunderson is another ultimately disposable character. Here we get a faux backstory to spice up the 8 Mile premise. Homer is working at a specialty pizza parlor in this episode, setting up mechanical robots who sing for kids. When a birthday brat ruins one, it’s showtime for the teen rapper. Homer “knows all the Ices, from Cube to T,” but his opening cut is “Slice, Slice Baby,” which he heavily samples from Vanilla Ice. Homer uses it to upsell pizzas, even finding a rhyme for Calamari olives. He ends with a plug for Canadian bacon which, on pizza, is very Vanilla Ice.
At the height of the pizzatainment, Gil’s place is shut down by the feds, because there were drugs stashed in the robot musicians. Homer’s dream is dashed. He loved those pizza-bots. We learn it’s just a memory Homer’s repressed, but remembering it wrecks him. Marge can’t stand to see him this way. He’s lost his youthful spirit. She can tell because he no longer shuffles his pancakes or butt races the dog on the carpet. Moe can sense something is wrong because Homer doesn’t spin Barnie on his barstool anymore, or drink beer from a crazy straw.
Bart and Lisa can tell because Moe and Marge agree on something. Also, because it makes sense. Rapping pizza robots “is a very dad kind of trauma.”
Putting the band back together makes for some classic comic sequences. The kids track Gil to Skid Row in Hollywood, where he remembers the incident in a completely subverted way. Back then, the whole world was his nostril, the drugs sold themselves, and he’s just waiting for a chance to pull himself together and sell more drugs. Disco Stu, who is a collector of disco memorabilia, owns the Jive Turkeys from the display. His mother, Public Domain Debbie, mocks her son for obsessing over the worst music craze ever inflicted on America, and frets over what his father, Doo-Wop Steve, would think.
Professor Frink owns the mechanical beaver. His segment comes second but it is the comic high point of the episode. Of course he understands the connection with mechanical friends. His own mechanical friends only want, well, the punch line, which almost makes you miss the opening of Moe’s wonderful Colombo spoof. He’s even wearing a raincoat, and spins back with one more thing, some WD-40 and an Enrique Iglesias record could only mean the last member of the mechanical band has been turned into a sex robot. Upon being outsmarted, Sideshow Mel provides a perfect Colombo villain denouement. He applauds the effort, very slowly. It is clever and funny, but lands perfectly after the Frink highpoint.
J.J. Abrams is the guest star and his quest to provide ageless marvels ultimately delivers the episode’s deepest cynicism. His sycophants have to keep him in a childlike state of wonder and constant whimsy, tracking down 1982 quarters and providing other emotional comforts. Lisa and Bart get into his offices with the kinds of “super vague” promises the Abrams enterprise considers its prime directive. But when they steal the last pizza bot, on little Star Wars robot wheels no less, they have taken too big a bite on the kitsch.
Even Homer is appalled, because stealing from a celebrity is, by law, equivalent to murdering “a dozen normies.” This is wonderful underhanded commentary, the likes of which goes back to the best of the series, since its beginning. Abrams, as himself, makes it worse by not only taking the actual mechanical musicians, but destroying everything Homer loves about them by planning a robot reboot franchise in a nine-movie arc. It’s set to open March 30th, “the new Fourth of July.” Ruining childhoods is what Abrams does best. He really is a bad robot.
Homer and Comic Book Guy have such a wonderful bonding you can actually see Homer turning into the trolling collectible collector by the climax. They meet to eat, in this case their feelings, which includes chocolate frosty depression and a hot apple cry. The sadness swallowers commiserate over ruined childhood memories, like Sonic the Hedgehog’s creepy human teeth. It is deliciously warped by how touching it turns out to be.
No matter how good determination tastes, Homer can neither save his childhood nor stop the robot reboot. Too many animators went blind to make it. Homer hilariously notes “the reimagining is worse than I could’ve imagined.” The movie stars “whoever was famous eight months ago.” In the trailer, the “Agents of Pizza” promise they’ll “save the world in 90 minutes or the movie is free.” The whole movie setup sequence is a giggle.
The Simpsons revert to their irreverent roots. Movie protesters hold signs reminding people “Some of us are women” and “unrelease the Snyder cut.” Abe admits being a terrible father is a generational thing. Men his age could only love sports stars and cars, and his dream child would have been a 1963 impala SS Sport Coupe.
The conclusion seals the episode as a classic. Not only does Homer lovingly blame Abe for every horrible memory of his young life, his own kids admit they can’t wait to burn the memories of their childhoods from their brains. The readings on lines like “it was always him sucking,” “I hate you dad,” and “forget you’re terrible parents” are exquisitely inverted emotionally. The “Troll Force Five” epilogue uses Comic Book Man and his clan very well.
“Do PizzaBots Dream of Electric Guitars?” is the best episode of the season so far, and a classic installment to The Simpsons repertoire. Clearly up to par with the best of the classics. It is so satisfying, it feels as if it was individually made to suit me, just like J.J. Abrams would’ve done.