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The Simpsons

The Simpsons is an animated comedy about a family in the fictional town of Springfield. The family is made up of selfish father Homer, fretting mother Marge, precocious daughter Lisa, rebellious son Bart and silent daughter Maggie. FOX 1989-???

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Episode 19 - A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again

2 June 2012

Credit FOX

Synopsis: Bart is tired of the drudgery of life and gets excited by the idea of a vacation on a cruise. He sells all his possessions in an attempt to earn the money and the family sell a few things too. Homer complains loudly about how irritating family vacations are but the cruise defeats all his arguments. Bart is thrilled with his fun schedule and Lisa is ushered into a group of elite children. Homer and Marge are happier than ever as they spend quality time together. As the end of the week approaches Bart decides to fake a warning message about a deadly virus so that the vacation will never end.  

The Good: This was pretty good. For once it was the emotional journey of the character which led the plot and the jokes just fitted in where they could. The results were memorable with Bart learning a valuable and potentially moving lesson about how life is.

The opening montage was creative and effective as we saw how Bart’s daily routine was leading him to feel depressed. It instantly made us understand his perspective and justify why he would set his hopes on a vacation. His decision to sell everything he owned was an interesting act (see The Bad). It certainly made it clear just how desperate he was to get away and led to the sad visual of him lying in an empty room next to his jar of money.

The family reward his effort and they head off together. A cruise was a new setting and was entirely plausible as the kind of fully catered environment where the whole family could get absorbed. Homer’s rant about family vacations neatly set the cruise up to counter every prejudice and the luxury upgrade was the cherry on top. Now Bart had everything he wanted and again a judicious montage showed us how he spent his first few days running from one activity to another. Bart also looked beyond himself and was delighted to see his family enjoying themselves as well. Lisa was not only doing elite activities but was getting attention from boys while Homer and Marge indulged in some romance.

At this stage I still wasn’t sure where the plot was headed, which was a very pleasant feeling. Then Rowan Priddis sings his song about going back home (again see The Bad) and it becomes clear that Bart won’t let the cruise end. He uses a scene from a movie (which had been dropped into the story earlier) to fake a deadly virus and suddenly we have a classic plot twist. Bart thinks he is doing good and yet doesn’t see the consequences of his actions. All he can think about is being an old man who lived a sucky life.

He continues to enjoy his dream vacation but everyone else lives in fear of the lives they’ve lost. They also have to deal with the stretching of resources which naturally results from there extended stay out in the ocean. The instant degradation of the ships’ facilities made sense and I smiled a lot at Priddis’ new orientation video for this post apocalyptic cruise.

Bart was eventually exposed and the Simpsons dropped off in Antarctica (yeah, go to The Bad). He tries to justify himself to his family and explains the dullness he was fighting against. Lisa steps forward and simply offers the moral of the story: life can be hard so we should all treasure those awesome experiences which come every so often. Bart now imagined himself old but with great memories surrounding him. It was a lovely conclusion which lost little from being so direct.

The Bad: By following a simple and satisfying emotional story this episode succeeded in a way the Simpsons used to do every week. However you can still see the difference between what the show was once capable of and even its best modern effort. The writers just can’t find a way to organically craft every development in the story. There were only three bad moments here but each stood out as a needless exaggeration.

The first was Bart selling all of his possessions to raise the money for the cruise. In itself it is an unlikely act. Would Bart really get rid of all his beloved Krusty merchandise? The really stupid part of this idea though is that he would sell off his furniture and, I assume, his clothes. Would Homer and Marge really reward this behaviour by contributing to the cruise fund? No they would be furious because they would now have to replace much of what was sold.

The second moment came when Cruise Director Priddis sang his song half way through the cruise. Instead of a believable song about savouring your time onboard the writers couldn’t resist in spelling out Bart’s dilemma in literal words. So Priddis actually tells people to think about how wretched their real lives are compared to the cruise. It was quite ridiculous and it made no sense that the rest of the passengers were smiling and happy at the end of it.

The final error saw the Simpsons left in Antarctica by the angry crew. Were penguins necessary for Bart to learn his lesson?

Best Joke: Priddis’ initial orientation video was nothing remarkable. But it paid off in amusing fashion when he had to record a post-apocalyptic version. He referred to their new destination of Antarctica as “romantic” and then cheerfully announced that activities there would include “building shelter, hunting for food and starting civilisation anew!” He continues describing life on the ship including the new charismatic cult leader “Dave the lifeguard.” 

The Bottom Line: This was comfortably the best Simpsons episode of the past five seasons (since I began covering the show in real time). That isn’t high praise but takes nothing away from what was good work. I don’t want to waste more ink (or bytes I suppose) in pointing out that one adequate episode in five seasons is a disgrace. So I will simply restate the obvious: this was an emotional journey which fit the character. It was a complete and satisfying story and it didn’t chase the jokes.

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  • This was nothing short of brilliant. I don't know what changed in the writing room, but the plot made sense without being painfully dull and predictable, the jokes worked and I actually sympathised with the characters and felt for Bart. After 10 minutes I wondered if they were going to veer on to some other unrelated plot, but they actually reached the end and I thought the ep could have kept going (in the sense that usually they seem desperately short of material). No B plot helped a lot and very little happened that was completely unbelievable, apart from the crew believing the movie clip was real. But I was happy to suspend my disbelief for that as I was interested to see what would happen... The speech from Liza at the end to tie the whole thing together was actually sweet and sensible...
    I am shocked and I have no confidence that this will continue, but that was the first ep of the Simpsons I have enjoyed in well over a decade. I'll be fascinated to see if you agree or if I was just in a good mood.

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by The G man, 01/05/2012 10:53pm (6 years ago)

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