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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 25.22 - The Yellow Badge of Cowardge


crazyforkate

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blog-The_Yellow_Badge_of_Cowardge_promo_1.jpgThe_Yellow_Badge_of_Cowardge_promo_1

Well, if that isn't the most awkward title you've ever heard. We've reached the season finale, which means a hell of a lot less on a show with little continuity, but still, Season 25 has come and gone. Mostly iffy with a few good moments, it's time to bring this thing to a close. Let's go.

Standard opening credits, the couch gag involves the family appearing at Comic-Con (with Matt Groening) and refusing to answer any questions.

We open with a weird mash-up of Biblical quotes (and what's more, truly random Biblical quotes) and Lisa reading some Buddhist teachings about fear - which we learn Bart is about to confront head-on. However, right now he's thrilled, because it's the last day of school. As he shreds his textbooks, Homer is dismayed to learn that the Fourth of July fireworks have been cancelled due to budget cuts. Lisa narrates some more about Field Day, the last day of school, and her friendlessness. You guys...are trying to replicate Summer of 4 Ft. 2, right? Because there's no replicating Summer of 4 Ft. 2.

The Field Day continues with its usual level of student apathy and staff incompetence. Just before the climactic Race Around the School, Milhouse reveals that he's been working out and is now totally ripped, making him a shoo-in for the win. Martin overhears and places a bet on Milhouse, even though he's running at 1000-1 odds. We get a recap of all the random children who've inhabited Springfield in the past twenty-five seasons. Suddenly Milhouse takes the lead, astounding everyone. The bullies worry for their gambling ring. They decide to take him out, so when the track twists into the woods, Nelson catches Milhouse alone and punches the crap out of him. Bart arrives as this is happening and is faced with a dilemma, as Lisa helpfully informs us. He chooses victory over friendship, accompanied by sad piano music.

As he collects his tainted ribbon, Milhouse stumbles out of the woods, unable to recall. Dr. Hibbert diagnoses him with traumatic amnesia and says he'll likely never remember. We then get an inexplicable M*A*S*H* parody. At home, Bart is tormented by nightmares, where Milhouse cries for help repeatedly. He quickly becomes a basket case.

Meanwhile, Homer continues his crusade to restore the fireworks, which could have been another one of those random plots which can a) go down in the show's history as part of their offbeat brilliance or B) become totally grating and pointless. You can guess which one has been more prominent lately. However, this time we take a third option, and Lisa tells us that the reason Homer loves fireworks is that they disguised the sound of his parents fighting - and he chose to believe that it was because they loved the fireworks as much as he did. He tracks down the fireworks man of his childhood, Giuseppe, and convinces him to come out of retirement. I have to admit, that's one of the saddest things I've ever heard on this show. Maybe it'll be maudlin and ridiculous, but it's piqued some interest. Do your worst, writers. (Also, Homer's mom is definitely Glenn Close this week.)

Feeling bad, Bart goes to comfort Milhouse, who is weak and depressed. They watch incredibly babyish television shows, which still manage to send Bart into a guilty abyss. Homer and Giuseppe buy sketchy fireworks from Cletus, but discover that they're made of meth and are forced to look into other options. Bart is invited to join a Livestrong knock-off for athletes doing good (that is, spouting vague catchphrases). Overcome with guilt, Bart decides to come clean in front of the whole audience. However, he chickens out at the last second. The athletes hand out those gross rubber bracelets, which one of the bullies flicks at Milhouse. This jogs Milly's memory. He immediately confronts Bart, exposing his cowardice in front of the entire audience. Lisa continues to narrate, which is really starting to bug me.

He heads to the retirement home, where Grampa tries to cheer him up by recalling his own cowardice on D-Day. The other old farts all contribute their stories of weakness. Grampa concedes that it's hard to live with, but he's not alone. Bart goes home, where Milhouse is sleeping over as scheduled. It's awkward, to say the least, especially since Bart keeps waking up with confusing nightmares.

Homer and Giuseppe continue on their excellent firework adventure. They've secured some supplies, but first have to pass over cobblestones and a rickety bridge, as well as take a tour through the Gas Lamp District, where a fire-eater's parade is taking place. As a closing touch, Homer tosses his cigar on top of one of the barrels of gunpowder. Miraculously, nothing blows up. By the end of the sequence, he and Giuseppe have become the best of friends. For the next five minutes, I guess.

The Fourth of July arrives. Bart is still suffering, despite the town's merriment. Homer sees what's going on and decides that fireworks will make him feel better. He urges Giuseppe to go ahead with the display. They get into an argument about an American history factoid, which causes the floating dock to tip sideways into the water. The fireworks dangle precariously, along with the two men. Frink reasons that it should be okay, as long as the fireworks don't go off. Predictably, the bullies immediately fire off another plastic bracelet, which hits the button and starts the display.

Giuseppe crosses himself, Homer prepares to die, Grampa flees the scene despite not being involved in any way. The fireworks are about to hit the crowd, but Bart hotwires the Springfield Retirement Castle van, driving it in their path just in time. Unfortunately, the townspeople all assume that Milhouse was their saviour. A very touching scene ensues in which Milhouse tries to tell the truth - but Bart won't let him. He gives his friend all the credit, behaving selflessly for the first time in ages. Lisa narrates about good deeds, Grampa is revealed to be playing the sad piano. However, he switches to ragtime, just to close us out.

We get a tag scene where Bart is haunted by Maggie, who has presented him with chicken feathers all episode, just to show how much of a coward he is. (And honestly, I wonder if it's a reference to the White Feather thing from WWI.) However, she reveals that she's merely been trying to show him that her teddy bear's ripped. He performs another good dead, fixing the bear by pinning it with his blue ribbon. Of course, Maggie immediately starts clucking like a chicken, Bluth-style. You can't always get what you want!

Over the closing credits, Homer and Giuseppe sing "Sometimes When We Touch". We get some nice banter between Dan Castellaneta and Hank Azaria. How close did this friendship get, anyway?

Overall, it was fun but pretty forgettable - which is emblematic of the season as a whole, I might add. That said, by late-Simpsons standards it was pretty good, giving an interesting exploration of cowardice. The Homer plot had some decent moments, and Bart showed unexpected depth. Nice ending, enjoyable half-hour, and a few good gags. It's not the groundbreaking stuff of yesteryear, but I was interested.

I think we could call the whole season a wash, really - it was bland and rather pointless (though dammit, I still love that Dr. Seuss segment in this year's Treehouse of Horror). We're getting a season 26 at least, but if they want to put it to sleep after this, I'd be pretty okay with that, as long as they had a big splashy finale to send us off, of course. So ends the first quarter-century of The Simpsons. What do you guys have to say about it?

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