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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 26.22 - Mathlete's Feat




So this week CFK will get a little break, as every show goes off the air save Community, and that's okay, because you know there's always time for Alison Brie. Finale Week kicked off last night with the much-anticipated, and glorious, Mad Men finale. Can the Simpsons measure up? Well, no, but at least we can have fun with what may be our last glimpse of Harry Shearer.

The couch gag kicks off with characters from Rick and Morty, a show I've never seen, crashing into the Simpsons house and killing the family. Well, that got dark fast. After they freak about about having killed a national treasure, Morty is tasked with taking a vial of "Simpsons goo" and a family portrait to an unknown location. Rick stays behind to guard against the millions of characters who exist on this show and might walk in. He messes with the family's possessions and freezes Flanders while Morty, on a distant planet, essentially has the family 3D-printed at a store. The family is reborn, but since Rick cleaned the vials with his own saliva, they all look like mutant forms of him. Disturbing, but amusing. As the two of them run away, Bart complains about guest animators.

Lisa and her fellow nerds are in a math competition against Waverly School, the snobby place the kids briefly attended a few seasons back. Their sponsors are - oh, Jebus - the three nerds from Homer's days in college. No. No. Keep those beloved characters in the golden past where they belong. This is almost as bad as bringing back Mr. Bergstrom for no lines. Apparently, they've gotten rich off a startup and can now finance things like math competitions. Krusty reluctantly opens it (he doesn't know which event he's attending) and Frink hosts. The schools show introductory films - one was clearly made on film stock, focuses on Springfield Elementary's past as a storage facility for salt pork, and was produced by the thrilling Chalmskinn productions (okay, I did get a laugh out of that one). The other film was directed by Michael Bay. (What, snobby elite school and they're not even going to go for a Wes Anderson, or even Christopher Nolan? Shame.) And as far as I know, that's not actually him speaking. There was input from Diablo Cody and Stephen Hawking, too. And some explosions. Lisa makes a speech about how her underdog school will pull off a surprise, but they lose 30-0.

Marge and Homer try to comfort her, but she has already figured out that Waverly's money gives them an advantage they cannot overcome. The nerds, moved by the team's plight, offer to buy each student a bunch of computer equipment, and give the school an upgrade. Skinner joyfully destroys all the school's filmstrips from the Nixon era (AKA current teaching tools). Blackboards are replaced by interactive whiteboards (and having taught from one before, I call bullshit that Bart can write on one so legibly), a 3D printing lab is built, and the school can finally hire some attractive teachers. Willie has a new supervisor, a Roomba. They hold a huge assembly to celebrate the changes, though the kids only want to watch a Game of Thrones rip-off on their tablets. The country of Decapitor sure has had a lot of violent weddings lately. "Who knew they had nipples in castle times?" exclaims a delighted Nelson. Unfortunately, all the streaming shorts out the school servers, which causes a power crisis that affects the entire town.

Now the school is worse off than ever before, except for one inventive teacher who teaches typing using marshmallows with letters drawn on them. Miss Hoover resorts to showing dubious educational videos on her phone, but Lisa can't quite see, so she gets bored and wanders off to talk to Willie. He's using an interesting method of lawn maintenance (from old-timey Scotland), which Lisa finds very interesting. A weird subplot is born.

She goes to see Principal Skinner, who is reassembling books from the ashes he gleefully turned them into shortly before the power outage, and tells him that their new Luddite status is nothing to worry about - they'll simply have to become a Waldorf school. Oh boy, another gimmicky fad episode. Chalmers thinks it has to do with the hotel, Skinner thinks it's "Where's Waldo" (and we're not even getting started on the salad), but they're on board nonetheless. So the program starts, with only minor glitches, though Homer is less than thrilled about the prospect of weekly parents' meetings. However, upon hearing the students sing the new school song (which is about as hippie as last night's Mad Men), he is terribly moved by their preaching of tolerance and joins in.

Homer enthuses about the new program, noting that kids can learn everywhere as Bart learns math by pouring beer. Willie is particularly popular, with his agriculture-based lessons, and he is soon asked to coach the school math team. However, he blows his chances by getting mad at Chalmers for some reason, chasing him with a tractor, and eventually causing him to crash his car (well, Bart helped by throwing an egg through the sunroof). As a reward for Bart's derring-do, Willie lets him onto the team. As captain.

Predictably, at the next match against Waverly, Bart is totally lost. However, Willie's unusual coaching strategy works wonders on the kids, and as the parents display incredibly clever signs of support (seriously, just watch the episode), the match proves to be a close one. Eventually, they are tied, and the last question is about triangles and straight lines. You can tell the math geeks on the writing staff had a lot of fun with this episode. Inspired by the geometrical shape of Homer's hair, Bart of all people comes to a solution. The team wins and everyone rejoices. Willie thanks "lower standards" for allowing them to win - wait, that makes no sense - and that's that. What a lazy ending.

In the coda, Lisa gets drunk on soda pop and thanks Willie for his help. He, in turn, shows her that the agricultural device which sparked it all was actually an execution mechanism. Lisa shrugs.

Well, it started off okay - thin plot, but good jokes - and then it totally ground to a halt. No ending, not even a good gag to finish with. It lost all its energy, fitting for a late-era Simpsons episode. So Season 26 remains disappointing from beginning to end. Maybe Harry Shearer had the right hunch after all.

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