The Simpsons: The Spy Who Learned Me
At this point, episodes where Homer is an ass than resolves to become a better person constitute a pretty large subsection of Simpsons episode, so whatever enjoyment there is to be had from them is going to depend on the execution. This one largely worked, thanks, for the most part, to Stradivarius Cain, voiced by Bryan Cranston, one of those great original Simpsons characters (like McBain) that parody a specific pop culture character. Cain's various pseudo-James Bondisms helped inject some fun into an otherwise basic plot, and I wouldn't mind having the character show up again in some capacity.
The B-plot, involving Bart using fast food to get back at Nelson, was pretty slight (and contained another outdated reference, this time to Super Size Me), but was an interesting example of how continuity works on The Simpsons. On the one hand, you have Bart getting bullied by Nelson, despite the two being friends in several episodes, because Nelson's default state is to be the bully. But at the same time, you have scenes between Lisa and Nelson that play off the unique relationship the two have developed since "My Date with Density". I'm not making any value judgements regarding the show's approach to continuity, just pointing another example of how the writers tend to pick and choose what continuity sticks and what resets each week.
Ned 'N' Edna's Blend
Speaking of Simpsons continuity, this was one of the show's rare "continuity changing" episodes, as the whole "vote on whether Flanders and Mrs. Krabappel get together" fiasco from last season's finale is taken to the next level and we learn the two characters have gotten married. This is the kind of change (like Maude's death or Lisa's vegetarianism) that the writers aren't afraid to occasionally make and then stick with. In the grand scheme of things, I could really care less about "Nedna", but the reveal of their marriage and the ensuing struggle to integrate Mrs. Krabappel into the Flanders' family made for a surprisingly straightforward and well-crafted episode (there really was no B plot to this one at all, and it featured a plot that would have been right at home in a more traditional sitcom).
Toss in some easy-but-funny jabs at organized religion along the way, a case of the Simpsons setting a good example for once and little surprise depth to Mrs. Krabappel, and you get a pretty decent episode.
Homer: Why do I succeed in everything I audition for?!?
Moe: There it is. Another story in the classic three-act structure. Good enough for Aristotle, good enough for the Simpsons.
Flanders: Pause the assembly! I have to talk to my wife.
Mrs. Krabappel: Ned!
Principal Skinner: My rival...
Superintendent Chalmers: Some rivalry. It's like Secretariat vs. a can of dog food.
Game of Thrones: The Old Gods and the New
Two episodes to cover, so let's dive right in!
The show wastes no time in having Theon capture Winterfell. What a dick. Yes, he's clearly posturing, and in way over his head (I particularly loved how initially nonchalant Bran was as Theon marched into his bedroom), but any hope for some kind of "appease his father/look out for Winterfell" double act went out the window the moment he (eventually) cut off (sorta) Ser Roderick's head. He may think he's not yet burning any bridges, but there's no way he can come back from this. I just hope Robb is gearing up for a monumental ass kicking.
North of the Wall
Another strong Nights Watch segment, undercut somewhat by the plot contrivance of the grizzled Rangers leaving the rookie Jon alone to execute Ygritte just so she can inevitably try to escape. I can buy both Jon's greenness and the fact that he'd be befuddled by Ygritte, but getting to that point that those two things can combine to allow for Ygritte to escape and lead Jon astray seemed overly-contrived (I'm curious if the book handled it the same way).
Arya has to waste another of her kill wishes, this time out of necessity. While the idea of her having to use one of them to help her out of a jam instead of in vengeance is a good one, the circumstances again felt contrived, as it seemed out of character for the usually-whip smart Arya to be walking around with the stolen scroll visible. Earlier, her attempts to avoid Baelish during his conversation with Tywin managed to be both tense and kind of amusing. I especially appreciated that it was left open as to whether or not Baelish recognized her.
Robb flirts some more, Caetlyn returns and reminds him there's no time for love when you're a king. Then they learn about Theon and Winterfell and Robb has to resist the urge to go bitchslap him himself. That's about all.
So Dany's dragons are stolen, and the most surprising thing about it is that it took this long. I mean, they weren't exactly locked up or well-protected. Other than that, we got more of the same from Dany. While I find her one of the show's more compelling characters, her story arc seems the most in danger of getting stuck in a rut. She's already disconnected from everything else going on in Westeros; narrative wheel-spinning is the worst thing that could happen to her.
So the shit hit the, er, erstwhile king's face, and if it wasn't for the attempted rape of Sansa (which was almost more horrific then Joffrey threatening her with a crossbow) this would have been the most fun scene of the episode. It was great seeing Joffrey get shit-faced (*rimshot*), it was great watching him realize that barking orders at an unruly mob doesn't accomplish much whether you're a king or not, and it was great watching Tyrion whack him across the face.
The Hound's continued affection for Sansa remains nice to see. I hope it's not going anywhere...icky.
Apparently the people living North of the Wall are from Ireland.
How great are the Tywin/Arya scenes?
A Man Without Honor
This was a relatively action-less episode, yet it was probably one of the most tense of the season, as everyone watches their best laid plans start to unravel.
Let's just get this out of the way: those had better not be the charred bodies on Bran and Rickon. I'm fairly certain it's not, for a variety of reasons, but either way, it doesn't paint Theon in a very favorable light. And now he's started down a slippery slope, in which any hope of keeping things civil in Winterfell is rapidly diminishing as he fights to hang onto it. Making everyone think he killed the boys was necessary to keep his own troops following him, but now he's drawn an even bigger target on his back for everyone outside of Winterfell. I no longer want Robb to come kick his ass; now I want Bran to do it.
North of the Wall
That went about as expected. Probably should have taken Ygritte up on her offer while you had the chance, Jon, considering you were walking into a trap anyways.
Another strong scene between Arya and Tywin. I particularly like the continued revelations that Tywin can see through some of Arya's lies (though not through them all, presumably). That he knows she's lying but doesn't yet care says a lot about his character. Meanwhile, I loved that Jaqen was not only skilled enough to kill that dude before he could tattle on Arya, but could do it in a way that framed the Brotherhood (though I wonder if Arya will ever learn of the suffering she's responsible for by inadvertently letting the Mountain loose on the countryside?).
The plot closest to stagnation gets a little life injected in it, as Xaro stands revealed as the Stealer of Dragons and teams up with Warlock Dean Pelton (credit to Dan Feinberg for that one) to take control of the city. It still doesn't give Daenrys herself much to do, and gets her no closer to Westeros or the main action, but things are moving along, and it was good that the whole "who stole the dragons?" mystery didn't get drawn out.
A trio of great scenes here. First, Shae threatens another handmaiden in a futile effort to keep Sansa's...burgeoning womanhood...a secret, which, I suspect, will be the event which proves Shae's undoing and reveals her (and ultimately Tyrion's affection for her) to Cersei. Then Cersei gives Sansa some advice about being a queen and focusing on your children, and manages to not be a bitch about it. Finally, Cersei and Tyrion share perhaps the best scene of the episode together, as Cersei more or less admits that Joffrey is a monster and Tyrion clearly feels bad for her despite their differences. Both the Cersei scenes did a lot to further add some dimension to her character.
Robb is off running errands with the flirtatious nurse, much to the consternation of some of his banner men, but Jaime makes his triumphant return. It became pretty clear pretty fast that Jaime was going to kill his poor sap of a cousin, but the preceding conversation shed a lot of light on Jaimie. After being one of the central characters early in season one, he's sat out most of this season, but the his two scenes in this episode managed to give him a season's worth of development. I still don't like him, but I'm intrigued to see what happens to him next.
Jaimie's line to Caetlyn about how contradictory his various oaths are was a fantastic bit of characterization, and really, a nice summation of one of the show's themes.
After he was recaptured, do we think Jaime was goading Caetlyn into killing him (and thus weakening Robb's position) or just being his usual self? I can't decide.
Was that the first time Cersei ever admitted to Tyrion that Jaime was Joffrey's father?
Just like Arya, Bran and Rickon (in some combination) now inadvertently have blood on their hands, thanks to a few errant walnut shells.
Speaking of, I love that Hodor just cracked the shells in his bare hands.
How I Met Your Mother: Good Crazy
As penultimate episodes go, this wasn't too bad, largely masking the obvious setup for the season finale with a lot of good Barney antics and the payoff to the "Marshall and Barney in Atlantic City" tease from the season's second episode (and I had totally forgot that we knew from that episode that this was when Lily would go into labor, so I was even mildly surprised by that). That Ted's relationship with Robin has become his character's main arc for the season kind of snuck up on me, and while his picturing her everywhere was a bit much (he had an easier time getting over back in season three after they had actually broke up), it effectively moved him back to where he and Robin can be friends again (she is, after all, Aunt Robin to his kids), depending on how the events of the season finale turn out.
Barney's growing issues with Quinn are making it almost too obvious that he won't be marrying her in the future.
The joke about how Barney thought Grandma Lois was talking about Quinn being a stripper was painfully obvious. I did enjoy the bit about how no one puts Quinn in a cage except cardboard ones on Cage Night, though. ("Thanks for ruining Cage Night.")
Barney's fake online dating profile was classic (we actually paused the screen to check it out in more detail - it was pretty great).
Marshall being so drunk he needed subtitles was also a great gag.
Lily: Babies aren’t so hard; you just watch ‘em be cute and feed ‘em spaghetti!
Glee: Saturday Night Glee-ver
Say this for Glee: it usually evokes a reaction. Whether because it manages to effectively depict a moment of genuine teen angst or because it's awful beyond belief, most episodes of this show leave you feeling something. Glee is rarely a "meh" kind of show. This, then, is one of those rare exceptions. Maybe it's because I'm not that much of a Saturday Night Fever (or disco) fan, or maybe it's because the main crux of the plot wasn't that ridiculous (I mean, the whole "Finn/Mercedes/Santana need to decide what to do with their lives" bit was a case of "too little, too late", realistically speaking, but was pretty tame by Glee's standards), but for whatever reason, this one had little impact on me. That happens with a lot of shows, but it seems especially odd with this one.
Which isn't to say this was a bad episode; rather, it was one of the better ones this season. The "what do we do after we graduate?" theme that's been running through the season has been one of the show's strongest, and it takes center stage in this episode. When it wants to be, Glee is very good at presenting what it felt like to be a teenager, when the world was full of potential and yet kinda scary and you felt everything with so much intensity. Finn deciding to become an actor after watching Saturday Night Fever was pretty ridiculous, but definitely worked within the show's aesthetic. It seemed like exactly the kind of thing a kid like Finn would do. The scene between him and Will, in which Finn declared his desire to just freeze time at the age of eighteen, had a lot of resonance, and was one of the best scenes of the season (Will's reaction to Finn was especially well-played; a rare bit of subtlety from Mathew Morrison).
Unfortunately, Glee has just trained us to expect such spectacle, be it good or bad, that an even-keeled episode dealing with one of the show's strongest themes doesn't stand out the way one of the train wreck or big sweeping performance episodes do. Still, I'd love to see more of the Glee on display in this episode than the other kind, even if it doesn't inspire a huge reaction.
I love a good pun, but that episode title is painful.
Where the heck was Quinn?
Apparently that clip of Neil Patrick Harris yelling "jean jackets" was new and not recycled from his season one episode.
Jesse's back, and it appears he will serve as the villain for the rest of the season. Which is really where he's belonged for a long time. Hopefully they still find ways to let him sing.
I would totally watch Lord Tubbington doing household chores. Wouldn't even need the sex tape intercut (not that I'd mind it...)
Stuff I Shouldn't Worry About: None of these kids, who clamor for fame and/or success in showbiz, have ever thought to put one of their performances on YouTube before? Really? I'm not even part of that generation and it seems like an obvious thing to do. Also, how did Unique keep her performance plans a secret from Jesse, when clearly every other member of Vocal Adrenaline had to be in on it? And it seems beyond ridiculous that Sue/Brittany could apply to college in Santana's name, let alone that Santana could both get in AND receive a full scholarship without ever auditioning, or talking to someone at the school. or even signing her name on something
Best Sue Nickname of the Night (and Possibly Ever): "Teen Solomon Grundy" for Finn.
Favorite Song: Like I said, few of these songs resonate for me personally, even though most of them were well performed. I'll go with "Boogie Shoes", one of the songs off the album I enjoy above others (thanks mainly to Sports Night).
Santana: Just like I’m a thousand percent sure that our man-child of a piano player keeps a petitie Asian locked in a trunk underneath his bed.
Sue: Look at Brittany. Her chagrin is limited only by the fact that she has a brain the size of a toddler’s fist.
Sue: Maybe you can get a business degree, open up a…taco truck? I’m still somewhat confused about your ethnicity.
Saturday Night Live: Eli Manning & Rihanna
This was a boring episode. Eli Manning wasn't great, not that anyone expected him to be, but he wasn't awful either. He did what was asked of him and got out of the way of the cast, which is fine, but not very exciting. Lindsay Lohan wasn't a great host, but at least she was bad in an entertaining way. Similarly, for whatever reason, this episode seemed to be filled with sketches that were neither terribly good nor terrible, and I hard time not reaching for the remote and/or checking Twitter throughout.
Cold Open: The Fox & Friends parody is a reliable laugh getter, and this one was no exception. Nothing groundbreaking, but one of the better sketches of the night. And, as usual, lots of freeze frame fun.
Monologue: Manning acquitted himself as well as can be expected, a bit awkward but still funny and mercifully, not too long.
Amazon.com Mother's Day Commercial: Probably the highlight of the episode, with the variations on the theme keeping the one joke from becoming stale.
Motion Capture: Enough funny bits here and there (like the return of Taran Killam's Tim Tebow, and Manning's grenade toss) but nothing too memorable either, and it went on a bit long.
The Courtroom: Another one joke sketch dragged out far too long. Manning defining "kewl" as opposed to "cool" was funny enough, but again, not enough to justify the running time.
United Way Ad: Manning's best work of the night, and a great counterpoint to Peyton's United Way ad from his hosting gig. In addition to the humor derived from helping little brothers get even, there was a lot of fun stuff in the various antics he pulled.
Herb Welch: The quintessential recurring sketch that isn't bad enough to hate or good enough to enjoy. It's basically one joke, sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's not, it follows the same beats every time, etc.
Weekend Update: Kristin Wiig's impression of the tanning mom was like everything else in this episode: fine but not terribly funny. Sasha Baron Cohen was great however, especially after he dragged out Martin Scorsese.
What Is This?: Nice to see Abby Elliot headline a sketch, one of the better ones of the night.
Helga Lately: I probably should have liked this one more than I did, because fake stereotypical Swedish accents always crack me up, but this still had a hard time keeping my attention and felt overly long. I wouldn't mind seeing it again though, to give it another chance.
Miss Drag World: The usual "we have an athlete hosting so let's dress him in drag because that's always funny" sketch. I'm pretty sure we fast forwarded through the end of this one.
Cheech and Chong on TCM: I usually love it when Jason Sudeikis shows up as Robert Osborne, but this one was brutal, the worst sketch of the night, and it seemed never ending. Maybe I'm just not enough of a Cheech and Chong fan?
Favorite Sketch: Gonna go with the Mother's Day commercial. That's the one that's stuck with me the most.
Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 6/20
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 7/20