This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 7
The Simpsons season 32, episode 7 carves the turkey a little thin for a pre-Thanksgiving offering. “Three Dreams Denied” has all the makings of a full and funny meal for the whole family. But a half hour later, you wish there was more stuffing. The ballooning game hunters even miss the flying turkey in the opening gag, which ends with the couch so exasperated she tells the family to sleep on the bed.
Comic Book Guy’s “Comicalusa” experience is a wild ride from the moment the patronizing pilot taunts his passengers with Superman sightings. The owner of Springfield’s only comic book store then sets about doing what he was born to do, paying the mockery forward on every aspect of the things he loves most. Who was the Joker, he asks, before dismissively concluding none of them.
If only someday people like him could make fun of people like him for working at a real comic book organization — not DC, but a real one — he would be transported to a superheroic fate. This week’s featured Springfield resident’s question, the best question ever asked at a comic book convention, is quite good — Superman-origin-story good: Are comic book mythologies the new religion, and if so, shouldn’t comic books be tax-free? He earns a celebratory pretzel for that.
Comic Book Guy’s dream costume should be standard issue at any convention, it allows him to alternate bites between a choice of beverages, fries, hot dogs, and tacos, which loom large in his legend. A Krustyburger 100-taco-for-$100-weekend is the stuff of Doctor Who marathons, and here he is riding escalators with the Who’s Who of Doctor Who. But Comic Book Guy’s real dream is to work at Marvel — to be plucked out of a crowd of complaining fanboys and lord over the fate of the Avengers.
“Comicalusa” is Burning Man for nerds, twice removed because Burning Man is also really just for nerds. Here he is with his idols, creative geniuses who have all blocked him on Twitter. And Comic Book Guy freezes up. It really is unlike him not to at least give an impromptu ultimate nerd variation. He had two steps to get it together when he stepped into third position. It feels, though it’s not said, like self-sabotage. It is sad that Comic Book Guy is ultimately saddled with the “worst question ever” title, but it is a worthy comeuppance for the man’s whole back-storied attitude.
This isn’t Comic Book Guy’s first humiliation at the hands of his, for lack of a better word, peers. He’s been outclassed by competitors, guest panelists, wise-ass kids and people he’s actually trained. He ultimately is redeemed by the only person who could never outclass him because he barely knows the meaning of class, or homework or the difference between arts ‘n crafts glue and oatmeal.
Ralph Wiggum, coming off a loss for first triangle to an empty chair, is like a sticky-fingered Baby Yoda, offering inscrutable answers to Comic Book Guy’s universe. It is really a very subversively touching scene because what Ralph brings back up in Comic Book Guy is the bile which he malevolently bestows on kids just like Ralph on tap.
Lisa’s crush is presented quite musically. She gushes in the key of Eeee. But the fight for first chair is best played in a minor key, regardless of the seemingly meat-free-sweetness of her blue-eyed boy. But Blake’s (Ben Platt) adorable blue contact lenses are as fake as the vegan BLT he was bragging about.
For a final insult, his four-note honk in competition for the first chair saxophone part is a deliberately humiliating bad run which is only marginally better than Lisa’s. We don’t actually even know if he can play. He seems like he might be such an evil little boy that he will continue to throw hot dog water on anyone who dares to out-reed him, whether he can play or not. Lisa, whose love of the music can inspire mall stores to close for jazz appreciation, is addicted to playing for free.
Surprisingly this subplot has the most satisfying payoff, even though it’s the only one Lisa estimates cannot be fixed. The song that plays during the closing coda is an inspired variation on the song “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” from Annie Get Your Gun. It says so much more and ends with a big whoop. It is a highlight.
We all know how much trouble the voice actors have been to the networks when it comes to The Simpsons, and the writers have some fun with it through Bart’s introduction to the game. “Who knew it was so easy to become a working actor?” the young vocalist says admiringly as he rakes in more money in one day than Homer does in a year. This isn’t the first time the boy has out-earned his father; it happens at least once a season.
While Comic Book Guy is away at the convention, he leaves the store in the hands of a veteran voice actor. The guy’s got a great repertoire from Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future to Scratchy from the “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoons. When he seals the deal with a classic, the rules of Cider House, Bart is floored enough to admit if he knew what that was he’d be even more impressed.
This is such a perfectly Bart line that it cements the character and leads to the chance to mock the network’s treatment of The Simpsons. Homer doesn’t believe a check from Warner Bros. Animation is any good. Bart is still getting his head around how any show which takes longer than a day to do a cartoon is trying to milk their studio dry.
Bart’s gender neutrality could have been mined for more comic possibilities. The mini-arc of him getting beaten up for playing a girl to proving how rad it is to be a unicorn-riding action figure who kills every adult on his show hits all the proper notes, but will it get him on a float on Pride Day? His accent is inconsistent, and his hetero normative tendencies freak out the bullies.
Fight as they often do, Lisa and Bart share some of the warmest moments of the series. Whether hugging as co-losers in hockey games or gaping in awe as Homer gets something right, they work best as a unit. When Lisa tells Bart he’s brave and should be proud of what he’s doing, it registers, but it feels more like he appreciated the dangerous aspects of playing a badass Queen.
The episode has its share of quick sight gags. It opens with Bart stuffing a chocolate bar into the cryogenic-plastic covering of a priceless comic. Martin Prince can be found shoved in the Springfield Elementary trophy case towards the beginning, and again hanging on a clothesline. When Comic Book Guy sees the opportunity to snatch and sell the rare, unopened, Radioactive Man toy he covers up his shrieks of pleasure by chortling into unsold Hulk hands. Good thing his girlfriend isn’t there to see that. The music teacher has to drown out the discordant cacophony of his band with noise canceling headphones and fistfuls of CBD gummies. The bum-note bug zapper is also an inspired visual.
The Simpsons are always self-referential, but it gets very subliminal in “Three Dreams Denied.” Yeardley Smith, who voices Lisa, made a guest appearance on last week’s episode, “Podcast News.” She was very adamant about not mentioning the voice she’s most known for. This week, Bart is playing a voiceover actor. I’m sure Professor Frink could come up with some reason this somehow flays the laws of animation physics. This is probably why the episode falls short. No one episode of The Simpsons can handle the voiceover click-track continuum, smooth jazz and the ultimate question to ask at Comicalusa. It’s just too much.
In the past, The Simpsons could have borne the extra weight. They’ve always had cross plots, subplots and occasional mini-arcs which play out under the radar. Each of the three stories are strong, funny and have the pathos or peril needed to make them great. In that sense, “Three Dreams Denied” is very much operating in The Simpsons early mode. While the journey flies by without too many bumps, the episode lives up to its title.