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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 25.3 - Four Regrettings and a Funeral





Well, anything this episode has to offer (and I'm sure there's a lot) has been overshadowed by last week's sad news of Marcia Wallace's death. Edna Krabappel goes with her - they're retiring the character - so for fans everywhere, the feels are massive. There will apparently be a short tribute in tonight's episode, though it was finished too far ahead of time to make significant changes. Let's sit together, as Simpsons fans, and take in the show we still love after all these years.

AND the show hits us right in the gut when we get to the chalkboard gag. Bart stands in the classroom looking mournful. Instead of the usual dozen lines about what Bart did, there's one line. It says "We'll really miss you Mrs K." Ouch, my heart. Nonetheless, he skateboards out as usual. Life goes on.

Clearly they put it in just to pay tribute (and thank God they did), because we go from there directly to the house. For a couch gag, we watch The Simpsons Gone Tolkien, as they traverse the land (including "LAX self-parking" and "Funkytown") to reach the mythical Comfy Couch. We are told it's "Part 1 of 6". God, I hope not. Moe is Gollum. Homer's drinking buddies are giants. After an arduous path over some admittedly stunning animation (including an encounter with Burns-Smaug), they finally reach the living room - whereupon Homer promptly plops down and tells them to get their own couch.

So the funeral is not of someone we knew - remember, they were going to kill a character off this season - but of some random guy named Chip Davis, who worked at Sector 6F in the nuclear plant. The church sign even acknowledges that we've never heard of him. However, he seems to be an integral part of everyone's lives, including Homer's lament that he was called "The Sixth Simpson". Man, death is just hanging over this season, isn't it?

Patty comments that everyone has regrets, Marge says that SHE doesn't. Patty tries not to choke at this, then insults Homer and the kids for good measure. To be fair, though, Bart deserves it, as he's still pulling pranks at a funeral. This one blows out Joe Namath's knees (it makes sense in context). Incidentally, yes, that is Joe Namath's voice, appearing for the second time. The other episode was Season 9's "Bart Star".

Marge still maintains that she regrets nothing, but that yes, Bart is out of control. She wonders if it was because she listened to KISS throughout her pregnancy. Whatever the cause, though, Bart clearly needs yet another behavioural overhaul. Focusyn? No. Therapy? Nahhh.

We go over to Kent Brockman, who reflects on his regrets, mostly having to do with his go-nowhere career. Homer has financial regrets, mostly centering around the time he sold his Apple stock in 2001 to buy a bowling ball. Also, he apparently had hair in 2001. To prove his point, Lovejoy then announces a texting prayer over iPads. Homer's bowling ball weeps. Damn, this is getting into Bergmanesque territory here. I feel like I need a Prozac refill just to get through this episode.

Burns comments that he bought Homer's Apple stock. Homer scoffs that he must have no regrets. It turns out, Burns does - the girl that got away and broke his first heart. I'm just going to let myself believe that's a Dick Cheney reference. Lovejoy addresses the congregation, asking if anyone out there has no regrets whatsoever. Agnes Skinner starts to say yes, then remembers Seymour sitting next to her.

After the service, Bart dresses up as "Father O'Greedy" and tries to extort the parishioners. He's standing on Milhouse's shoulders, and Milhouse's nose pokes out at an extremely awkward angle. Yeah, it's exactly what you're thinking. Lovejoy runs out in his underwear and reclaims his stolen vestments. Bart and Milhouse promptly begin fighting with the collection baskets as Flanders desperately tries to put money in. OMG FLANDERS KRABAPPEL THE FEELS ARE BACK. Ahem. Sorry.

As her son runs around being a hellion, Marge once again flashes back to the KISS music, which she listens to while Homer burns "What to Expect When You're Expecting". Burns, meanwhile, reflects on his lost youth, prompted when he sees the lively, carefree Crazy Old Jewish Man. We go to Paris "between the wars", where he meets a young woman named Lila, who owns a crepe stand. They quickly fall in love (and to be fair, young Monty Burns is pretty easy on the eyes). Eventually, Monty proposed, but balked when Lila asked him to set aside five minutes a day to think of others. Or rather, Lila ran out on him first. He still has the sketch he drew Jack Dawson-style, though - the most heartbreaking stick figure in the world.

Inspired by the preacher's words, Burns vows to find Lila again, once he reconnects with all his old Paris buddies - Hemingway, Picasso and Stalin. Stalin's is the only good drawing in the book, to which Burns darkly reflects, "That man could really put pressure on you." Heh, as I'm living in Russia this runs a liiittle too close for comfort, so let's go on.

Kent Brockman has a reunion of his own, with Rachel Maddow (and yes, that is her), who made time to attend the funeral during the obligatory DC-New York layover in Springfield. They used to work together at Channel 6. Their careers took different paths, and Ken is seriously bitter. However, Rachel still seems to be fond of him, and we gather that they were good friends back in the day. Never mind that when the series began, Brockman was a long-established anchor while Maddow was still in high school. We'll just say she's a prodigy, which is pretty much true anyway. Damn you, floating timeline!

Rachel tells Kent the one big mistake he made as an anchor, but only after grabbing a mug of tea. He could have gone with her when she left Channel 6, but chose to stay in the name of "infotainment". We get another flashback. After an unsuccessful interview with Rainier Wolfcastle, the discouraged Maddow/Brockman team go out for dinner. Kent is sporting some epic black hair. Kind of a Don Draper meets Elvis.

They both hate their jobs and are desperate to move on. Rachel thinks she's found a way out. Kent immediately jumps at the chance, telling her that "We can share blazers". I have to say, Maddow's doing a great job. A lot of non-actor Simpson guest stars are pretty iffy (though there are some delightful surprises, such as Neil Gaiman a couple of seasons back), but she's actually pulling it off. Her trademark snark is there, but she's a believable character - and make no mistake, playing yourself is still a character. Good casting, guys.

Rachel leads him to the woods, where the Springfield Tire Pile - not yet on fire - is still a huge secret. Turns out it's from a fault car that Krusty's been manufacturing. They eagerly get to work, but Krusty shuts it down, telling them that he controls the channel and can ruin them in a heartbeat. Rachel tells him she's walking. Krusty beckons to Kent. She warns him that he'll regret it - but Kent stays. Krusty tells him not to worry, and casually throws his cigar behind him, starting the tire fire we all know and love.

Burns has hired a private detective, who tells him that Lila's still alive - and a Buddhist nun. Kent is in New York, looking to move up in the world. There's a hilarious parody of the various American news channels. Kent decides to try FOX News. And we all know what the writers think of them. Meanwhile, Bart takes off in a laundry basket attached to balloons, in his latest scheme to drop gross things on people.

Kent has an interview at FOX, where they show him a sort of Photoshop TV remote. When a Republican does something bad, it automatically converts the R into a D. And normal guys into menacing terrorists. Kent is disgusted and declares that he will return to Springfield, where he decides what news is.

Homer reflects on his memories with his beloved bowling ball. He's going to get it shined at the bowling store - soon to become an Apple shop. To add insult to injury, the Surly Repairman is there, sporting an iPhone equipped with a very unhelpful Siri.

Trapped way up in the air, Bart realizes he may be in a difficult situation. I'm disappointed that no music from Up is played. This feeling intensifies when Bart flies over the Rich Texan's family reunion, complete with guns fired in the air. Just then, a little child thoughtfully sends him his balloon - which gets lodged in the existing balloon lift and just makes him go higher.

He passes over a mountain inn, where a disgruntled Smithers is waiting outside while Mr Burns has finally reconnected with his lost love. Lila is delighted to have found him again, and they are about to get down tonight. However, Mr Burns is not a young man, and must use a dubious-looking pump to get himself ready for lovin'.

Kent arrives back at Channel 6 and sadly reflects that this is the end of his meaningful career - just as Bart flies over screaming for help. The newsman seizes the day. Referring heavily to the film Up, he immediately begins to broadcast Bart's plight. Marge catches this on TV and is terrified, as any mom would be. Flanders urges Bart to pray, but is miffed with Bart prays that God transform his laundry basket into a mind-controlled killer robot. Hey, with this kid you've got to specify.

Burns comes out ready to take on love again, only to find Lila dead. CPR is unsuccessful, to put it mildly, and he his heartbroken. Smithers comes in to comfort him, and suggests that in her memory he do what she asked when he proposed so long ago - to think of others for five minutes. We cut to Burns at a soup kitchen, gently and sincerely helping those who need it. When Smithers points out that the five minutes are up, Burns says he'll keep going. As he stirs the soup, Lila's face appears in it, and she tells him she's proud. He happily kisses the soup, which kind of defeats the point, but hey, in Burns terms this is massive progress.

The police are doing their usual inept job of trying to save Bart. Marge moans that this is all her fault, and Bart would never have done it if it wasn't for those KISS albums. Wiggum, in a rare moment of wisdom, tells her that she's being ridiculous. Ralph, after all, was the product of Mozart and Chopin, and even the Chief admits the kid's messed up. Frink suggests a solution for saving Bart, where they will shoot a weight from a historic cannon to land in the basket and bring him down safely. However, all their cannonballs were made into a statue of Joe Paterno (since converted to Eugene Levy). Homer steps in with the answer.

The bowling ball is loaded into the cannon (though they track the shot on an iPad, making this episode feel a little too much like an Apple commercial - what happened to the "Mapple" brand they used to talk about?). Fortunately, it lands inside the basket just inches away from Bart, sending him to the ground and saving his life. Marge has her son back, Homer has his bowling ball, and all is well - until he grabs the basket and drifts away himself. More comments about him "rising faster than Apple stock", with a text disclaimer on the bottom of the screen: "This is the last time we will kiss up to Apple. We're not even getting paid for this."

Homer safely lands on the ground, everyone cheers for him and Bart. Lisa runs in proclaiming that she won the science fair and is going to Chicago. Everyone still cheers for Bart. Marge concludes that if your family's together, then all your choices are the right ones (to which I say that sounds pretty spurious). Unfortunately, one of Wiggum's unqualified snipers accidentally shoots Homer's bowling ball. Brockman finishes off the news story on a high note. He's reporting to Rachel Maddow, who calls it great work and offers him a job. He says he's happy where he is - no regrets.

The closing credits come up. A title card appears dedicating the show to Marcia Wallace. We get a quick clip of her famous "Ha!". Shivers down my spine. We miss you, Ms. K. We really do.

Aaron Sorkin was supposed to appear, but he's not in the credits so I suppose he's been cut. What a shame, but we had a lot to work with anyway. This was a really great episode. Tightly written, showing new facets of the characters we have known for decades, it was as good as Season 25-Simpsons can get. It contained some genuine emotion, which is such a rare thing in the series lately. Kent Brockman's storyline was the standout, in part because of Maddow, but also because he's a character who doesn't get much backstory other than a few hints. The feeling of stagnation is something to which we can all relate, as well as the craving for familiarity. I also loved seeing this new side of Mr Burns. It felt true to his miserly character while still exposing that he was achingly human - and even for a few minutes, someone could change his life. He's still a bastard, no question, but for a moment he turned over a new leaf. It was just the right amount of change. Homer's story was goofy but yielded some very funny moments (remember, this is the same man who called the big possum Bitey - Homer plus non-human friends often equals gold). Marge's plot was in the episode just enough, not overwhelming the stronger stories but allowing for a few moments of truth, including a very rare moment of reality from Wiggum. Emotionally, it felt like the old Simpsons from Season 2 and Season 3, and that is a very high compliment indeed.

As for the Marcia Wallace tribute - thank you, writers and animators. It was obviously too late to rewrite the episode or anything, but I don't think that would have worked anyway. Bart's expression as he wrote on the chalkboard in the opening was extraordinarily poignant, especially when posed with that single, solitary sentence. And the title card with the "Ha!" clip got to the essence of Mrs Krabappel's character. It was a short goodbye, but it was a great acknowledgment of her part in the show. I expect this is not the last of Wallace's time on the show - some of the dialogue has obviously been recorded ahead of time - but Krabappel will soon be gone, and the show will change.

Between this rather stark and sober episode, the loss of Krabappel (which was of course not foreseen), and the plan to kill a character off, Season 25 is looking darker and more solemn than those before it. I have to say, I like this change in tone. The show has drifted too far into zany in the past decade, and to bring it back to something a little more real would make a huge difference to the series' last few years. Whether forced by real-life fate or intentionally written, the series is going through a phase of reflection, I think - something that will be to its benefit for episodes to come.

Well, next week's episode is called "YOLO". Maybe I spoke too soon...

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