The Simpsons money train continues to chug along for the FOX Network as the curtain opens on the ugly yellow bastards’ 24th season premiere, which sees Bart getting the family to return to New York so he can search for his ex-girlfriend, Mary Spuckler (Zooey Deschanel).
A lot of this episode is familiar territory for long-time viewers, but to the episode’s credit, it’s chock full of nods to previous Simpsons outings. Bart worries about being alone, so he tries to reconnect with his ex-girlfriends, all of whom were indeed girls featured in other episodes and are even voiced by their celebrity guests to boot.
It strikes me as odd that Greta, Ranier Wolfcastle’s daughter, isn’t among them. I would guess that they thought it would be too old a reference for their current audience, but as you’ll see that certainly didn’t stop them for a lot of other beats in this episode.
Upon arriving at Cletus’ shack, he learns that Mary has left town to live on her own in New York City and decides to go after her.
The previous visit to New York in Season 9’s “The City of New York vs Homer Simpson” is slyly referenced a fair bit, most humorously when Homer is reluctant to go and Bart replies: “But Dad, your two least favorite buildings have been obliterated!”
Ballsy and well played, people. Well played indeed.
Zooey Deschanel does a really wonderful job with the voice acting here, unlike so many of The Simpsons‘ long, long list of celebrity voices. Many of them play themselves, and when they are cast as original characters, there’s usually no question as to who the voice belongs to. Deschanel, on the other hand, actually voice acts here. She’s not playing Zooey Deschanel. She’s not playing Inconsequential Yellow Person Who Sounds Like Zooey Deschanel, she’s returning to her role as one of Cletus’ many offspring, and sounds it too. It’s not completely un-Zooey, though, since they do manage to get her singing a quirky song and playing an acoustic guitar but it’s a brief, largely forgettable moment in an otherwise rock-solid episode.
Marge and Lisa’s quest to find a slice of New York culture on a frugal budget was the weak point of “Moonshine River” as is unfortunately often the case for the Simpson women. The majority of their misadventures fail to get a laugh, until near the end when they end up staging a cancelled Shakespeare in the Park production themselves, and it does lead to a very funny moment with an annoying drum circle.
Moe wins worst joke of the episode as he is wont to do, attending the post-Springfield Grand Prix dance with a blowup doll for a date, and then panicking when his other blowup doll catches them. Har har har.
The episode as a whole feels like the writers are well aware of the series’ age and the sheer number of times hijinks have ensued and are now funnelling those comments into characters like Kent Brockman, Marge, Lisa, even brief moments with folks like the Khlav Kalash vendor. I realize The Simpsons is not the place to go looking for character development, but I like that these people have had so many stupid things happen to them they are no longer surprised and seem rather resigned to a life full of completely ridiculous events.
You could argue that it’s a sign of how stale the show has become that even the characters are bored, but I think it helps a series with very little continuity really feel like it’s been 24 years and they damn well know it.
Overall, this is a much stronger outing than I expected from The Simpsons this late in the game. The jokes aren’t as sharp as they once were, but they had me laughing consistently. Plenty of well written bits in classic Simpsons style and the nods to older episodes is certainly an added bonus for long time fans.
“Moonshine River” is certainly one of the most heartfelt episodes in recent years, and it makes good use of its established characters as a source of humour instead of resorting to random gag writing the way Family Guy often does. By now, the world knows these people inside and out and I find that the writing staff has finally begun to learn how to use that nostalgic familiarity effectively rather than making the audience just wish it really was 1998 again.
It got me thinking about how silly the whole “When Did The Simpsons Become Shit OMG LOL” camp really is. Sure, the series will probably never hit the same highs it did in the 90s, and we’ve certainly had some truly awful strings of episodes at times, but I think just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying nothing beyond that point is worthwhile is really quite ignorant. Not every episode is a gem, but post-movie things have improved dramatically and there’s still a solid half hour of entertainment to be found with America’s favorite family.
That said I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sight of Bart Simpson holding an iPhone. What the fuck my brain hurts.
One last note, which isn’t really about the episode, but rather the small bit in the middle of the credits with the Simpson family encouraging you to submit your own couch gag for a contest. While it’s not a bad idea it does make me wonder just how out of ideas they are for these things after doing more than 500 of them.