‘Simpsons’ Weekly Recap: New Neighbors, Same Old Lazy, Late-Series ‘Simpsons’
The first couch gag of The Simpsons Season 35 featured a welcome cameo from comedy legend Dick Van Dyke flying past Homer in his Chiddy Chiddy Bang Bang at 97-years-old. In last night’s “McMansion & Wife,” Van Dyke showed an ability to make the exact same jokes for half a century that today’s Simpsons apparently finds aspirational.
The episode opens on Homer’s midwork daydream in which he dons a “Lambuggini” jacket before ditching the power plant and hopping in a slick 1980s supercar in an over-the-top extended homage to Knight Rider. The sequence reaches a height when Homer hops the Springfield Gorge, narrowly missing Van Dyke and his phantasmagorical flying machine. Homer makes it home to the couch before being dragged back into reality, remarking, “stupid imagination” before the opening credits roll.
One morning, the Simpsons family all dress in their best church clothes to go greet their new next door neighbors, the affluent and attractive Thayer and Anne Blackburn. Marge, specifically, hopes to make a better impression on the fresh meat than the rest of the neighborhood has had of her family for 34 unfortunate years. Thayer, a young and successful sports car salesman at the local Lambuggini dealership, shows an unusual interest in becoming friends with Homer, inviting him on long rides in his personal hot rod and showing a casual disdain for Ned Flanders. Homer is immediately seduced by Thayer’s sports car, apparently seeing it as the ride of his dreams.
Meanwhile, a counterproductive anti-bullying seminar at Springfield featuring a Jeff Bezos cameo inspires Nelson Muntz to grow even more ruthlessly assertive in defiance of the PSA’s weak messaging. Nelson gives every student and staff member within reach brutal wedgies while demanding that his classmates film his transgressions for social media, “Not vertical, landscape! Or you’ll all get it!” Bart finds himself the biggest target for torment after unsuccessfully trying to utilize the aforementioned anti-bullying techniques.
Homer, Marge and the Blackburns go out on the town as the Simpsons’ new neighbors spoil their new friends with the finer things in life en route to a late night. Early the next morning, Homer and Marge awaken to explosive construction noise as they realize that the Blackburns are doing extensive and disruptive renovations that Homer had apparently agreed to tolerate the night before. Back at the school, Lisa learns to weaken Nelson’s tough guy image by posting secretly recorded videos of his broken homelife and poorly hidden sensitive side on a cyberbullying website, threatening further humiliation if Nelson doesn’t give deference to the Simpsons kids.
Homer confronts Thayer at the Lambuggini dealership, where the salesman promises a swift end to the construction and offers to let Homer borrow his prized sports car. Homer and Marge accept the peace offering and spend an evening at make-out point. Meanwhile, Nelson recruits Hubert Wong to counteract Lisa’s cyber attacks, and the two engage in a nerd-off that temporarily ends in a stalemate as they realize how poorly the affair will look to future colleges.
Once construction on the Blackburn home is complete, Homer and Marge come to find that the sprawling megamansion next to their modest home fully blocks out the sun and leaves them in their more affluent neighbor’s shadow. The couple argue over proper recourse before Lisa and Hubert emerge, apparently both aware of the zoning dispute as they’ve already come up with a solution — Hubert somehow discovers that the Simpsons’ plot is the exact place where Jebediah Springfield founded the city/town of Springfield, giving the entire block landmark status and preventing the Blackburns from making further alterations to their property.
Homer storms back to the Lambuggini dealership to tell off Thayer with a series of supremely unoriginal jokes about masculinity’s relationship with luxury cars in front of all Thayer’s customers before Homer and Marge ride off into the sunset in their signature Orange Station Wagon.
Best Joke: During the Blackburns’ night of wining-and-dining with the Simpsons, Kirk van Houten observes the new neighborly friendship while seemingly at dinner with Luann and the Hibberts. Kirk asks the doctor, “Why aren’t we friends like that? Is it because you’re a doctor and I’m out of work?” to which Dr. Hibbert replies, “No, it’s because we’re not even dining together, you just slid your table closer to ours.” Cue signature laugh.
What Canon Changed: Not only did Jedediah Springfield make the iconic and canonically important founding of the town on the spot where the Simpsons house stands, but, apparently, he named the town after the geographical features of the area instead of his own last name, suggesting “Fieldspring” before landing on the eventual moniker.
Also, Lisa apparently has spycams in and around Nelson’s home. Whether they were planted for purposes of unrequited love stretching back to the Season 8 episode “Lisa’s Date with Density” or simply for sadistic humiliation to her brother’s benefit is unclear, but Lisa’s technical prowess proved exceedingly successful in starting a cyberbullying campaign.
Is ‘The Simpsons’ Good Again?: “McMansion & Wife” had many of the structural elements that longtime fans have been missing in recent episodes. Along with the return of the couch gag came a full B-story with a beginning, middle and end that rejoined the main plot in the final act. In terms of story construction, “McMansion & Wife” loosely resembled a Golden Age Simpsons episode — only the execution played more like an A.I. wrote a Golden Age Simpsons episode.
The humor in “McMansion & Wife” is flat, forced and wholly generic — an unoriginal punchline about pickleball and a derivative tête-à-tête between Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers are awkwardly inserted into ill-fitting moments. There’s a rimshot quip lifted straight from every 1950s sitcom when Homer and Marge are arguing about what to do with their overbearing neighboring property as Homer suggests, “Fires are easier to pin on grandpa, just putting it out there,” to which Marge snaps back, “You put everything out there but the trash!”
The most painful part of the episode comes in the grand finale when Homer confronts his foe at the Lambuggini dealership, concluding his righteous rant with the platitude, “I’ve learned something, there’s no such thing as a Lambo man! Just rich jerks with stupid cars!” Homer’s speech inspires the other patrons of the dealership to abandon their luxury vehicles as they mutter lines like “Oh my god, he’s right! This doesn’t make my junk look any bigger!” and “You know what? Forget it! I’m gonna date somebody my own age.”
Following an excellent and experimental second episode, “McMansion & Wife” brought us back to contented mediocrity. This week, The Simpsons was not good again.
A Classic Episode To Watch Instead: “McMansion & Wife” wants us to think that Homer’s dream car is a completely unnecessarily bastardized Lamborghini, but longtime Simpsons fans know what Homer’s ideal ride really looks like — watch “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” from Season Two to get a peek at true vehicular perfection.
Semi-Arbitrary All-Time Ranking: 684th out of 753 total episodes.