Episode 19 - The Front
13 July 2011
Synopsis: Bart and Lisa write an Itchy and Scratchy episode and submit it to the creators under Abe's name. Abe is soon hired to be a staff writer and wins an award. Meanwhile Homer and Marge attend their High School Reunion and Homer is humiliated when everyone discovers that he never graduated from High School. He takes an evening class to complete Remedial Science.
The Good: Homer was his usual amusing self throughout this. I really enjoyed the scene where he reads from his High School Year Book "Activities: None, Sports: None, Honours: None...So many memories." There's no hint of irony there, he is genuinely looking back with fondness. He then takes great pride in scooping up all the "awards" for his lack of progress in life and when asked how he has gained so much weight he announces "I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch." His determination to pass Remedial Science and graduate was sweet and the closing gag with the plunger was clever.
The Abe story was more interesting in theory. Bart and Lisa prove a point about adults when their script is used with Abe's name on it. We get a ton of decent jokes at his ageing expense (see Best Joke) as he snoozes his way through his new job and wins an award. The writers use this opportunity to take digs at other cartoon franchises and themselves (the other writers are all based on actual Simpsons writers). We got another clever meta joke when Roger Meyers explains that sometimes animators reuse the same backgrounds. As he says this Bart and Lisa walk repeatedly down the same corridor with the same cleaning lady. It's hard not to smile at Lisa defeating Bart at Rock-Paper-Scissors with his childish boy logic of "Good old rock, nothing beats that!"
The episode was very short in length which forced the writers to add the fairly memorable "Adventures of Ned Flanders" onto the end. The writers saw it as an Archie style final page and it is kind-of fun. However most people's reaction is going to be confusion.
The Bad: The episode was short in part because of the lack of depth to the stories. Homer's plot was very much a B story so I'm not too bothered there. However the Abe storyline could have gone in many directions but didn't. For example we never see Bart and Lisa write more than one episode. Yet Abe is apparently churning out good scripts. So many in fact that Meyers fires the rest of his writing team. It would have been good to see Bart and Lisa getting stressed out with this process and perhaps admitting that it isn't easy to keep coming up with great ideas.
Instead Abe wins the award for the one cartoon which we saw them write. Ignorant Abe has never actually watched "Itchy and Scratchy" and is appalled by the violence. He castigates the audience for laughing and they boo. Lisa walks him out saying "I guess nobody likes the truth." The truth? Does that mean Lisa agrees that the cartoon was horrible and that the people who laugh at it are despicable? Didn't she write it? And doesn't she laugh, hence her desire to write an episode herself? And since when is Grandpa right about anything? Earlier in the episode (again see Best Joke) he is writing ridiculous complaints to magazines and then later asks the President to eliminate three of the States!
The writers didn't figure out an adequate end to the episode and once more I lay the blame at the feet of "Itchy and Scratchy." They were an idea based on exaggerating the violence of cartoons like Tom and Jerry. Adults and children in The Simpsons universe laugh at it as if it is Tom and Jerry and the violence is not as bad as it is. Yet of course if you look at the violence as if it is not a satirical exaggeration then it is abhorrent and shameful. So what are we supposed to think? That Grandpa is right and what we literally see is horribly violent. Or that Grandpa is an old curmudgeon and complaining about the equivalent of Jerry bonking Tom over the head with a frying pan? The writers have tried to have it both ways in several episodes and I've never been satisfied with the result.
On a smaller note Krusty is trying to quit smoking during the episode. Yet when he has to give the award to Abe no big punch line came from his struggles with nicotine patches, beyond perhaps his grouchy demeanour. That seemed like a wasted opportunity.
Best Joke: Grandpa is typing one of his letters of complaint though we don't know who he is writing to yet: "When I read your magazine I don't see one wrinkled face or single toothless grin. For shame!...To the sickos at Modern Bride Magazine."
The Bottom Line: On the surface this is just another enjoyable episode. But beneath it there are some flaws which could have been addressed.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.