Monday, January 16, 2012

The Simpsons logs on to "The D'oh-cial Network"

     This week's entry of FOX's The Simpsons is a parody of the film The Social Network entitled "The D'oh-cial Network." Lisa (Yeardley Smith) realizes she has no friends, and so creates an online social site, SpringFace, where she soon has a thousand and is hailed as a hero! But she doesn't plan for the consequences, which finds the entire town glued to electronic devices, shunning all human interaction, and leading to countless traffic accidents. In the end, Lisa tells the judge she will take down her website, and Springfield returns to normal.

     Taken by itself, the plot in "The D'oh-cial Network" runs a little thin. Who exactly hauls Lisa in before the judge? And when she agrees to remove the site, the case is just dropped? Why did she need to tell the entire story of her family visiting a mall at the beginning? None of it really gels together well, so it's a hodgepodge of parts.

     As a move parody, the episode does a little bit better. There are some key things from The Social Network that are directly ripped off, such as at the end when Patty and Selma (Julie Kavner) face off with the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, reprising his film roles) in a rowing race, which The Simpsons turns into an incestuous make-out session. Some of the courtroom dialogue seems familiar, and the basic structure. Obviously, The Simpsons can't take the plot completely, as it just doesn't condense well into the short, animated format. But taking some themes and references out to play with is enough.

     I guess the confusion here is that The Simpsons have only about twenty-two minutes to condense down a two hour movie, and yet, they start late and end early, making the meat of the episode one of the leanest ever. Did they really out of ideas after fifteen minutes? If so, why even attempt the task?

     The opening of any Simpsons episode has a couch gag, which sometimes go on to be quite extended. The one in "The D'oh-cial Network" is one of those times, where the family runs through the city, and makes it through a number of checkpoints, with Homer (Dan Castellaneta) predictably distracted along the way. The payoff is that they find their couch on David Letterman's (voicing himself) set, and he makes a snide comment to them. Humorous, sure. Not sure it really fit with the episode. Then again, the couch gag often doesn't.

     The end of "The D'oh-cial Network," too, is unexpectedly long. As the credits start to roll, they quickly stop because the episode doesn't have a long enough story time, and a couple minute long filler must be inserted. It's an amusing poem read by Skinner (Harry Shearer) as a failed lesson to get students to not pull pranks. Again, it's pretty darn funny on its own. It just doesn't fit in with the episode at large.

     All said, "The D'oh-cial Network" is not the strongest episode of The Simpsons. It gets some laughs, but lacks a cohesiveness that makes it feel like the series is just phoning it in at this point. My advice? Do the best season ever made next year, with poignant, connected, heartwarming, hilarious stories that get back to the root of the characters, then cancel the show, going out on top. Because this slow fade to death is sometimes painful. And make no mistake about it: The Simpsons will not run for another twenty years on its current path.

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