Golden Era Plus – Brick Like Me

Brick Like Me is arguably the most ambitious episode The Simpsons has ever done, but it’s not here by virtue of its high concept alone. While The Simpsons has had success with concept episodes in the likes of The Simpsons Guy and Eternal Moonshine Of The Simpson Mind, it’s also flopped hard with The Great Phatsby and Dogtown. Brick Like Me doesn’t just pull off the concept well though, it manages to reinvent the storytelling of The Simpsons while, LEGO aside, feeling like a vintage offering from the show.

Watch If You Like: Homer The Heretic, Lisa The Iconoclast, Lisa The Greek, 22 Short Films About Springfield

Written By: Brian Kelley

Directed By: Matthew Nastuk

MVP: Homer

Brick Like Me is told primarily through LEGO, with the whole town brickified. Early on, LEGO Homer has a flashback to his cartoon self, and begins to suspect that his world is not real. They could’ve gone non-canon with the LEGO and had more freedom with it, but it’s startling how well they managed to utilise the LEGO reality while telling a story which was heartfelt, funny and, most impressively, actually made sense.

In the Futurama crossover Simpsorama, the premise for getting the Planet Express crew in the show was weak, but we went with it because we wanted Futurama in the show. With Brick Like Me though, we don’t have to just go with it. Everything just works.

The humour is a little sweeter and family friendly here to fit the LEGO brand, but it still feels right in the middle of The Simpsons’ wheelhouse. Rather than hokey advertising, the way the Elon Musk & Lady Gaga centred episodes were, Brick Like Me feels like two beloved properties coming together to create something unique.

Writer Brian Kelley has even spoken of the efforts to try and get every character possible LEGOised to make the most of the opportunity. “We pushed as much as we could to get everyone into those pews. We were like, ‘More characters! More characters!’ because we knew our audience would hate us if any of their favorites didn’t get to be LEGOs. You won’t see Señor Ding Dong or the Grumple, but I think we crammed in everyone else.”

The plot itself is built around Lisa and Homer’s relationship, as many of the all time greats are. The reason Homer is in this LEGO world at all is because the real Homer is building a LEGO diorama of the town with Lisa, but she ditches him to go and see The Survival Games, a Hunger Games parody.

His hurt at being rejected causes him to retreat inside a make believe world of LEGO. Here, he has all the time in the world to bond with Lisa, cherishing his time capsule existence. Soon though, he realises that by remaining here, he’ll never get to see Lisa grow up.

The Android’s Dungeon is central to this fantasy, with the real Homer having bought the LEGO set there he and Lisa were building in the first place. In the LEGO reality though, Comic Book Guy is part of Homer’s psyche, and represents the side of Homer who still wants to remain in the LEGO world. It’s yet another brilliant flourish which highlights how well the show folded every character into the concept intelligently, rather than simply doing another Simpsons episode, but with LEGO.

The resolution, revolving around parental connection through LEGO and the importance of letting go does bear some similarities to The LEGO Movie – which cartoon Lisa even references – but not so much that it feels a tired rip off. Brick Like Me and The LEGO Movie were developed simultaneously too, so it’s more a case of great minds think alike… or the fact that it’s an obvious theme for a LEGO story.

Eventually, Homer returns to the real world and takes Lisa to see Survival Games, learning to let his little girl grow up. A lot of Homer/Lisa episodes revolve around Lisa rediscovering her connection with her father, so seeing the relationship develop through the lens of Homer was a fresh idea and made for a new take on an old favourite.

If you’re desperate to point out a weakness, the B-plot of Bart rebuilding the school isn’t up to all that much. Yes, Skinner stifling his creativity feeds into how Homer wants to stop Lisa growing up, but this felt like a time when a full on A-plot would have been enough, especially given that it features the LEGO story and cartoon story.

Bart’s story could have been improved with more space, but that would mean either cutting the church scene with all our favourites, or taking time from the final, imaginative ninja pirate battle with LEGO Comic Book Guy. Neither seem like good choices.

By virtue of its sheer uniqueness, Brick Like Me is a Golden Era Plus episode guaranteed to be remembered when The Simpsons finally bows out for good. Don’t let the gimmick fool you though; few episodes have more heart.

Golden Era Plus – The Squirt & The Whale

For our second Golden Era + feature, it’s another Lisa episode in The Squirt & The Whale. Lisa’s actually the character I feel has gone off the rails the most since the Golden Era ended, so the Lisa episodes I like are few and far between. That said, because of their relative rarity, they’re a lot more special, which probably explains why she’s featured heavily so far.

Watch If You Like: Mother Simpson, ‘Round Springfield, Lisa The Iconoclast, Dog Of Death

Written By: Matt Warburton

Directed By: Mark Kirkland & Mike B. Anderson

MVP: Lisa

The episode starts slightly rocky; a sure sign of a post Golden Era episode is the inability to maintain high quality throughout. The Simpsons decide to embrace wind power, but when Homer realises they’re generating more power than they’re using, he disconnects from the grid, leaving them entirely reliant on wind.

It’s mildly entertaining, but perhaps takes a little too long to get to the main point.

Eventually though, there’s a major wind storm (linking in nicely to the wind power story), which sees Bluella the whale end up beached in Springfield. Lisa, ever the idealist, enlists the help of the town to get Bluella back in the ocean. Unfortunately, Springfield’s strongest don’t have enough might to pull her back into the sea.

Despite everything looking hopeless, Lisa stays by Bluella’s side. She’s always at her best when she’s heartfelt and genuine. There are fewer laughs to be had here, but it’s one of the most affecting stories the show has had since the Golden Era ended.

Lisa remains hopeful that Bluella will be saved, befriending the whale as she protects it on the beach. It’s a hopeless story, one with no real villains or heroes. Just a little girl coming to terms with the fact that sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you love something, it doesn’t always work out.

There’s a dream sequence where Lisa imagines the whale being saved then swimming amongst the stars, which comes with wonderful animation. It offers a brief flutter of hope too, bringing the eventual, stark ending into an even sharper spotlight.

The episode starts rocky, tells a brilliantly confident story which avoids pulling its punches, but unfortunately seems too scared of its own message. Having the Springfield police blow up the dead whale completely undercuts Lisa’s sadness and feels unnecessary and (worse) unfunny.

Golden Era Plus – Halloween Of Horror

For the first Golden Era Plus feature, I couldn’t look past Halloween Of Horror. Though not my runaway favourite episode post Golden Era, it is one of the best put together. It changes up the stale Halloween formula to tell one of the show’s most human stories in years.

Watch If You Like: Lisa The Greek, HOMR, Moaning Lisa, Bart On The Road

Written By: Carolyn Omine

Directed By: Mike B. Anderson

MVP: Lisa

Coming in Season 27, Halloween Of Horror is both one of the most talked about episodes and yet one of the most under appreciated episodes. Fans who’ve stuck with the show know this to be an ambitious shot at getting back to the show’s very best, but so many gave up long ago and aren’t prepared to listen. Hopefully by the end of this, you’ll be willing to give it a shot.

Though Season 27 still aired a Treehouse episode (it was flat and uninspired; you won’t see it feature here), Halloween Of Horror took a risk in messing with the established Halloween episode formula. Season 31’s Thanksgiving Of Horror took a similar chance, and it too reaped great rewards. It’s almost like fans appreciate new ideas more than slight variations on the same idea for thirty years.

The episode sees The Simpson family go all out with the Halloween decorations, but their enthusiasm is sapped when Lisa is traumatised at Krusty’s Halloween Park. Since around Season 25, Lisa has been made the villain of the family so many times – working on a longer article about that – and it would be easier to make her bad guy again here.

Rather than play it as Lisa ruining Halloween though, it becomes a much more relatable and nuanced story. Homer stays at home on Halloween to keep her safe, and we see that wonderful father daughter relationship in action, rather than the adversary roles they’re often cast in.

Unfortunately, three teens Homer accidentally got fired from the Kwik-E-Mart earlier in the episode decide to take their revenge, and plot a Halloween home invasion.

In the B-plot, we see Bart and Marge teaming up, a partnership which has produced fantastic chemistry in the past, but can also be needlessly grating. Here, it’s kind of in the middle, as the focus switches quite quickly to how adults have taken Halloween from kids with the sexy costumes. There’s a pretty decent song you can check out below, but this is definitely the weaker part of the episode and holds me back from proclaiming Halloween Of Horror to be true Golden Era quality.

It’s a shame too, because the heart of the episode is the connection between child and parent. Homer’s relationship with Lisa is what makes this one so special, and in the likes of Marge Be Not Proud, we know Marge and Bart have the same impact. If they’d done more here to connect the themes of both plots, we might be looking at a masterpiece.