This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 17
Bart gets lost in the matrix on “E My Sports,” The Simpsons, season 30, Episode 17, and he takes Homer with him. The starts out with subtle foreshadowing. Lisa conquers Homer at the game of Risk, bankrupts him at Monopoly and aggravates him at Aggravation. What Homer lacks in board gaming skills he makes up with in life, the game version of which he also lost.
“E My Sports” opens with a most unlikely yin yang balance as Marge’s sisters, Patty and Selma, come over for a visit. Usually, this kind of meeting is unbearable for all involved as Homer tries to keep his aggressions passive while his step-sisters declare open verbal warfare. The Bouvier sisters even complement Homer on his parenting. There is only one thing missing, Bart.
The catalyst of many of the family’s transgressions and subsequent banishments is being punished because his misplaced seasonal focaccia breaded up the works of Springfield’s Golden Glutton Buffet. Homer’s punishment is to get the boy a top of the line gaming console designed to numb his spirit until he is no longer the family’s responsibility. Everyone gets lost in video games. Sometimes for minutes that seem like hours. The best way for Bart to be the best he can be is by having him be his worst. Pay him to create chaos and he is no longer a threat to the family and society at large. Lisa thinks this is bribery and Homer slips her some cash to stay out of it. Homer later bribes Marge, buying her a coffee pod machine like the one she made fun of at the Hibberds. Marge is on full enabler role in this “E My Sports.” She sips down each of Homer’s excuses in European portions just sampling the flavor.
At first glance, it looks like Homer’s on to something. Bart is happily yelling “Kill, kill, die die.” But soon it goes too far stars Bart playing with himself in the shower, along with his teammates on The Evergreen Terrors: Millhouse, Nelson, Martin and Sophie Krustofsky, who, in an upcoming gaming competition would be the most famous girl gamer of all time, whether she wins or loses.
Sophie is Krusty the Clown’s daughter, and it would be nice to have kids back at her father’s place again after that thing with the monkey, so he hosts the local championship which pays $1,000. The “They pay you?” bit is one of the best of the season. Short. Simple. Homer decides it is his job to take this rag tag bunch of game-players to the state championship, and its Flanders’s job is to make Bart a good man.
The Evergreen Terrors win the tournament Principal Skinner doesn’t understand, but which paid for new basketball nets at the school. Seymour breathes new life into an old gag when he has to turn over the $1,000 prize money to Bart but finds his hands won’t disengage themselves. “I’m telling myself to let go of the money,” he says, but it doesn’t compute.
Homer gets seriously behind Bart after learning the international championship pays $500,000. Teambuilding is important, except between him and Lenny at the plant. And what a team. Nelson doesn’t just destroy his enemy, he defiles the corpses. Homer calls in a professional.
The Detonator sets the kids up in swivel chairs and explains their game plan. His fingers click with light quick strokes to avoid joint fatigue. He is a true virtual athlete. He speaks the speak, and apparently nothing else, as Marge finds out when she invites him into her home, a phrase which doesn’t compute until she amends it to directions to where the game was being played. Once there he unleashes a barrage of gamer lingo, some of which I hope was made up. Nerd lingo it saves so much time. Whatever he says, it works. But when it stops working, even for a moment and you lose the zone, it is the true end of innocence. We learn it sucks to be old as the Detonator detonates at 19 years old, a relic in the world of gaming.
The episode provides one unexpected knee-slapper. Homer wants to give Bart some fatherly advice and bids him to sit on his knee. The boy asks if he’s a little too old for that, but hops on and Homer’s knee gives out. Dan Castellaneta’s delivery as he tells Bart to get off his knee gives a priceless payoff to a gag his voice set up. He does this a lot and in diverse ways. He can change the entire mood of a scene with one sentence, sometimes a word.
The show may be Bart’s but Castellaneta’s vocal chords give the most rounded performances. When the Detonator tells Homer his son could be one of the top ten players, Homer assumes he is talking about the state. When the gaming pro says bigger, Homer comes back with “the galaxy”? It tells us a lot about Homer’s state of mind, psychology and history.
The featured number tonight urges Homer to live through his kid. It is sung by a lot of other fathers who lived through their kids. They spent their kids childhoods waking them up at five for practice, and probably going back to sleep. One of the best lines advises dads to strap their sons to a hockey stick while he’s asleep in bed. Homer isn’t like these other dads, though. Yes, he’s proud of the boy and lauds himself, but that’s not why he does it. This was the parent who advised all the children to quit competing and be kids again. Homer would have been happy with that much glory, but no, it was the 500,000 dollars.
The Conflict of Enemies championship is held in South Korea, home to The Simpsons animated studio and amusement park. It is also the best place on earth to make, and destroy, salt mandalas which free the ego from material grounding. So when Canada is oot at the championship and Homer tells the family he and Bart are going to South Korea, Lisa is beyond disappointed. When Marge decides to make it a family trip, we learn Lisa has a “happy diary” but she keeps it in the basement. Tonight she has reason to write in it. How horrible it must be in how it pales in comparison to its unhappy counterpart she writes in every night in her room.
Marge reluctantly frees herself after she untidily rustles the salt she so delicately and artistically cast on the black background. Homer completes the three Zen minimum and is so freed of thought he is recognizes as the true reincarnation of the Buddha. If only the other followers knew how close his head is normally to that state they would feel less guilty for stealing his shoes, the real reason the ornate temple was building the first polace. Homer learns competition is meaningless, and to strive is to fail.
“What good is wisdom, Johnny, if it is of no profit to the wise,” Luis Cyphre asks in the film Angel Heart. The Buddha teaches the profit is of the soul. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, the chalk on the field will be blown away, the EXPs will be erased when you clear your cache. It is all transient, much like the Island of the Blue Dolphins. The Simpsons teach us a lesson in civic irresponsibility.
The more The Simpsons reward bad behavior the better the episodes get. It is where both the real and surreal world of the show get its strength. Except Lisa, when the middle child of the Simpsons household behaves badly, it cracks her parents up. Even as she’s doing it, she’s improving herself, adding one more IBID to a bibliophile’s nightmare. The depths Homer’s reckless indulgence will sink unleashes a talent in Bart, and Lisa’s tour guide spirituality unleashes the anarchy her father needs to disrupt all of gaming in South Korea. Marge thinks it’s great. The Simpsons “E My Sports” is a formidable and forward thinking entry for the season.
“E My Sports” was directed by Rob Oliver, and written by Rob LaZebnik.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, 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. Guest stars: Ken Jeong as Korean Monk and Natasha Lyonne as Sophie.
The Simpsons‘ “E My Sports” aired Sunday, March 17, at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.