While The Simpsons occasionally bites at the hand of of its corporate overlords at Fox, Banksy’s opening credit sequence to last season’s “MoneyBART” was a feral snap at not just the network, but at the very real inequities that come with using unregulated foreign businesses to produce an animated show and its related commercial products. The producers of The Simpsons were inspired to ask Banksy for his contribution after seeing his brilliant film Exit Through The Gift Shop, which might be a documentary that illustrates the complexity of the street art movement and might be a profound joke on the movement’s patrons and might be both of these things at the same time. Tonight’s episode, “Exit Through The Kwik-E-Mart,” boasts appearances by street artists Shepard Fairey, Ron English, Kenny Scharf, and Robbie Conal, all of whom are in the same line of work as Banksy, but it lacks the bite that viewers might expect from such artists. Instead, it is somewhat amusing and far more coherent than many recent episodes, but the satire is relatively mild. The episode curdles a bit while looking for a sweet ending, but it is otherwise solid enough.
This is one of the episodes that starts with a C-plot of sorts, where the opening act tells a story from which the A- and B-plots emerge. Many of these opening C-plots are not that funny or germane to the rest of the episode, but this one segues into the remainder easily. The gist is that Homer has, shockingly, bought Marge a thoughtful birthday gift with time to spare. To up the ante, he takes it to a Swapper Jack’s to have it signed by TV chef Paula Paul. There are some nice digs at Trader Joe’s and its customers in the Swapper Jack’s segment, and while plenty of jokes could be made about celebrity TV chefs, Paula Paul’s name and later rampage against Marge are payoff enough.
The B-plot is kicked off by an angry and jealous Apu, who leaps out to confront Homer about shopping with his competitor. This leads into an epic swordfight between the two using those little cheese sword things, which is the funniest part of the B-plot. The other segments, where Apu attempts to rob the Swapper Jack’s and then finally hears that it has closed because they were using monkey meat, are only so much weak tea. They aren’t very funny and take away from the far stronger A-plot.
The main action of the story follows Homer cruelly punishing Bart when his well-meaning birthday plans go awry because of Bart’s own thoughtful gift to his mother. Bart’s revenge involves vandalism, which gives us the references to street art and the opening to introduce the guest stars. While Bart is out painting the town, he is confronted by the street artists, who encourage him to go legit with a gallery show. The two centerpieces to this plotline are Bart’s sprees, both of which are fairly clever montages that approximate the street action in Exit Through The Gift Shop. The first is scored to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, which should suggest that Bart is creating something that he cannot control, although that does not really come across in the episode. The second is scored to Richard Hawley’s “Tonight The Streets Are Ours,” which served as a theme song for Banksy’s movie. The reveal that the art show was a police sting gives the show a moment to joke about the anti-art market theme from Exit Through The Gift Shop. Wiggum asks who would be stupid enough to pay for work that an amateur puts up for free in public, and the answer is, as in Banksy’s movie, the very wealthy, here represented by Mr. Burns.
The only false note in the A-plot is how it tries to end with sweetness between Bart and Homer, which would be easier to take without Homer strangling Bart in his sleep, pouting like a child, and then locking him in a rabbit cage again. While it makes sense for Homer to feel sorry for himself, Bart’s forgiveness seems quite rushed. After this, it is good that the episode ends with Bart’s escape and send-up of Wiggum. Will we ever see evidence of Bart’s art talent again? Perhaps if Banksy himself makes a guest appearance, but otherwise, the Simpsons Magic 8-Ball believes the prognosis is not good.
- The Game Of Thrones couch gag is indicative of some of the laziness of the latter-day Simpsons humor. It’s not satire, but an homage, as if to answer the unasked question: What would the Game Of Thrones opening sequence look like if it had The Simpsons cast in it? Now we know.
- I realize that this is hardly the only show running the commercial where the Lorax is pimping an SUV, but that commercial pushes the irony-meter so far into the black that The Simpsons should just close up shop.
- Swapper Jack’s has grass-fed lettuce. Ha!
- Homer’s “Normal. Normal. Normal. Normal. Nor- Uncharacteristic!” was also funny, mostly for Dan Castellaneta’s delivery.
- Chief Wiggum’s message to the then-unknown graffiti artist: “You may have thumbed your nose at the police and made yourself into a combination of Robin Hood, Luke Skywalker, and, well, every rapper ever, but unless you prove that this wasn’t just a one-time spree and take your controversial artform to the next level, I am not impressed.”
- Bart to Lisa: “Fine, fur is murder. Everything is murder!”
- Shepard Fairey: “Street art is not about questioning authority!”
- Given that Kenny Scharf was a friend to and collaborator with Keith Haring, it is a pleasant touch to see a Haring poster behind the alley where the street artists put up their work.
- One of the gallery patrons is Yoko Ono. I’m not sure whether she would have entered through the Sincere Hats or the Ironic Hats door.
- Mr. Smithers: “He just said the show is a sham!” Ron English: “Oh, it is. And I’m just a guy sitting at a table. The only thing that’s real is the sign that says, ‘No Refunds.’”