Could a Simpsons-free Simpsons save The Simpsons? After a patchy season so far, this week’s new (to the UK, airing Friday on Sky) episode ‘Road To Cincinnati’ is one of those episodes that proves there’s life in the old gang yet. And yet the story almost exclusively follows Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers (anyone else think of Ralph Wiggum calling him Super Nintendo?) as they attempt to get to Cincinnati, where Skinner is to deliver a keynote speech at an educators conference.
At the end of the episode, fun is poked at the lack of screen time given to the Simpsons over a family meal, with each member of the family recounting some dull activity carried out while we were enjoying Skinner and Chalmers on their own version of The Trip. And enjoy it you will – this is a classic-feeling episode with great jokes, perfect pace and a nice bit of emotional heft.
This season, more than any before, has shown just how difficult it is to find new adventures for the core characters. When your ‘everyday’ family have travelled to the moon, desecrated the Bill of Rights and destroyed the ecosystem of continental Australia, you have to go a long way to find an entirely original storyline.
The supporting characters are, arguably, as well-loved as the Simpson family themselves, and their stories – while equally long-running – are less well explored. And there are new characters, too. This episode introduces Principal Finch, played by comedian Hannibal Buress, who is a scheming new rival for Skinner and someone we’d like to see more of. Imagine if, just for a season, they renamed the show The Simpsons Present: Springfield and let Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and Maggie take a back seat. Would you miss them?
Chalmers is to take smarmy Principal Finch to EduCon in Cincinnati, but Skinner – acting on Bart’s advice – snatches the opportunity. When Chalmers freaks out on the plane to Ohio, the odd couple must travel by land instead. Over the course of an eventful journey that sees Skinner’s mum’s Buick totalled, Chalmers begins to begrudgingly respect the way Skinner gets them out of scrapes with a mob of angry cyclists and a no-nonsense Southern judge. Chalmers is then forced to contemplate the morality of his plan to oust Skinner from Springfield Elementary.
What was good
Seymour Skinner? Seymour WINNER more like. The most put-upon man in Springfield (with apologies to Waylon Smithers) finally gets a run of good luck as he encounters a series of situations that put his limited talents to use. Every now and then, you love to see it.
What wasn’t good
When Skinner and Chalmers discover that the biker bar they’ve gone into is, in fact, a cyclist bar full of lycra-clad types with no sense of humour – that’s funny. When they get in a chase situation and Skinner hails an army of paraplegic veterans to scare them off – that’s just weird. Is the natural enemy of the cyclist the wheelchair-bound vet? Did we miss something?
Scene-stealer of the week
It’s the three hitch-hikers Chalmers picks up, hoping for an excuse to stop engaging with Skinner. To his horror, it’s an improv Shakespeare group.
Nice to see you, Jason Bateman!
Principal Skinner is delighted when he sees Game Night is playing on the aeroplane, and he fairly neatly sums up the curious appeal of 90 minutes in the air with the king of the light comedy about a highly strung man. Says Skinner: “Jason Bateman, your boyish charisma was made for the low-res seatback screen.”
Continuity error of the week
Skinner overhears Chalmers’ conversation with Finch as he’s on the extension of the landline at the B&B. Yet, at the start of the episode, Skinner waved his cellphone at Chalmers. Why were they both using landlines? Later, Skinner finds he has Chalmers’ speech cards. He’s miles away from Cincinnati, and the speech starts in five minutes. Text pictures of them on that smartphone you have, Seymour old boy!
The thing you’ll Google afterwards
Unless you’re familiar with the Queen City, you’ll almost certainly be checking to see whether the good people of Cincinnati really do eat their chili with spaghetti. The answer is yes, they do. It’s called Cincinnati Chili and it looks delicious.
Controversy of the week
‘Road To’ episodes are a Family Guy thing. Sure, they borrowed it from the Road To… films of the ‘40s and ‘50s, but it’s established as a Family Guy format. It wouldn’t be the first time The Simpsons has swiped back at Family Guy, but it’s one of the cattiest.
Easter egg of the week
Not so much an Easter egg as the beginning of a conspiracy. In the background in the teachers lounge, Dewey Largo, the foul-tempered Springfield Elementary music teacher, has posted a bill offering ‘guitar lessons with Mr Largo’. Not a single tab has been ripped off. Later, Skinner and Chalmers are in a quaint bed and breakfast somewhere between Springfield and Cincinatti. Sat at a breakfast table is Mr Largo – purple bow tie and everything – yet there’s zero recognition between the three men, as if they’ve never met. Largo was once voted the worst Simpsons character. Is this a way of showing us even the characters agree?
Did you spot this pop culture parody?
It’s a buddy story in the mould of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and, like that 1987 John Candy/Steve Martin vehicle, it’s a joy to watch.
Jarringly modern gags of the week
The raft of “emotional support animals” on the aeroplane; Finch’s love of poke; a noticeboard request for a Hulu/Netflix password trade
Thing not to remember this week
Seymour Skinner isn’t even the real Seymour Skinner. Sorry.
Eye on Springfield
- Writer: Jeff Westbrook
- Guest stars: Jason Bateman as himself, Hannibal Buress as Principal Finch
- Couch gag: N/A
- Blackboard message: N/A
- Is it as good as the old ones? Yes!
- Like this episode? Try this one: Why not revisit another classic road trip? In season seven’s ‘Bart on the Road’, Bart, Milhouse and Nelson head to Knoxville, Tennessee to catch the 1982 World’s Fair.
‘The Simpsons’ season 32 episode 8 airs on Sky One at 8pm tonight (March 5)