For a lot of Simpsons fans, the biggest news from “Gorgeous Grampa” is a new entry in the Great Springfield Songbook. Montgomery Burns does a klezmer-style number that proclaims “it’s high to be low,” giving us the unsurprising news that the nuclear tycoon revels in being the object of hatred. (Update: The song is actually called “It's A High To Be Loathed,” but Mr. Burns is no Ella Fitzgerald when it comes to elocution.)
“Don’t really care for chasing women/Never was keen on booze/Don’t take cocaine or mary jane/No, I get drunk on boos,” Mr. Burns begins as he leaps to the stage of a supper club. (There’s no more need for Smithers to protect him by saying, “No, they’re saying boo-urns.” Poor, useless Smithers.) He makes shadow puppets comparing himself to such villains as South Park’s Eric Cartman, Star Wars’ Darth Vader, and someone named Nader—presumably Ralph, and presumably a villain for his anti-nuclear views, not for his role in electing George W. Bush. The big finish: “You know you’re gonna live forever/if everybody wants you dead.”
The song is not as fiendish as Mr. Burns’ “See My Vest,” from season six’s “Two Dozen And One Greyhounds,” but it’s an enjoyable interlude in an unremarkable episode that whips through a parody of Storage Wars, makes a detour at “What if Grampa’s gay?”, presents a tribute to 1950s TV wrestling, and ends with a little life lesson for Bart.
The season has already heavy on nostalgia and on Grampa appearances, so it’s not a pleasant surprise when the Simpsons stumble upon a storage unit with boxes of feather boas, wigs, and perfume sprayers in boxes marked “Property of Abe Simpson.” Marge is thrilled by the possibility that Abe is gay (“Old gay men are cute, like wrinkle-dogs in a wrinkle-dog calendar”), but Mr. Burns recognizes him as “Gorgeous Godfrey,” a flamboyant villain from early TV wrestling and a take-off on the real-life Gorgeous George. Fortunately, there’s only a brief flashback to black-and-white times before we get to the main story: Mr. Burns, an admirer of Godfrey’s outrageously unsportsmanlike behavior (“that conceited motherpuncher was my hero”), persuades Grampa to sashay back into the ring.
The return of Gorgeous Godfrey—announced as “America’s Original Vainglorious Bastard”—is a triumph, and Bart has newfound admiration for his grandfather. Bart even adopts the persona for a Little League game, strolling onto the field in a cape and top hat and announcing to the bleachers, “You are the luckiest people in the world. You get to look at me!” This gives Mr. Burns the idea of pairing Gorgeous Godfrey with “Beautiful Bart” as the perfect tag team to bash objects over opponents’ heads and incite wrestling crowds into the kind of mob furor that has made Springfield so famous.
Just before they enter the ring, however, Bart is an asshole to a little-kid fan, and even though that’s how Bart has always acted, Grampa is alarmed enough to turn on a dime and invent new, morally upright wrestling characters for the pair. And instead of raining low blows on their opponents, Bart and Grampa nearly pummel the life out of Mr. Burns. A happy ending for all, assuming that Mr. Burns enjoys bruises as much as he does boos.
- I still think about the possibility that the surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of Abe Simpson this season is part of grand plan to kill him off, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.
- I’ve gotten some pushback for complaining about the “dark” humor and sick jokes on The Simpsons this season, though I’ve been disappointed by the laziness more than the presence of such humor. But there’s not much opportunity to discuss that this week, as this episode lacks references to pedophilia or images of random Springfieldians getting gruesomely killed. The scene of Mr. Burns taking a pounding in the wrestling ring might have been grotesquely funny with some blood or breaking bones, Itchy-and-Scratchy-style, but The Simpsons seems to have odd rules concerning how much harm can be done to central characters. (My impression is that even Homer isn’t as injured as much as he used to be, at least outside of Halloween episodes.)
- There is one good mean joke in the episode. Still thinking Grampa is gay, Marge tells Homer, “Your father wasted his whole life being married to your mother and having you.” Her complete lack of malice in delivering the line makes it more amusing than Homer’s frequent bitchery about how awful it’s been to raise kids.
- Marge is unusually dim in this episode, noting that “They even had a gay float in the Pride parade this year” and misconstruing the “Casual Encounters” section when she places a gay personal ad for Grampa on Craig’s List. (“Perfect! No pressure!”) Also: “It’s so sad that Grampa has to cheat instead of relying on his god-given wrestling skill.”
- Marge reads aloud the ad she’s typed: “Wonderful older man seeks life partner before rapidly encroaching death.” Just mentioning death is not really funny. Homer tells Marge to add, “No fatties!” Calling out a stereotype of gay personal ads is a wee bit funnier.
- Winkiest moment of the week: Smithers approaches Grampa in “Casual Encounters Park” and whines, “I’ve been hung up on someone for years, but I’m trapped in the ‘friend zone.’”
- Walking Dead joke of the week: Abe locks himself in his room at the nursing home, and Marge shouts “If you don’t want to die alone, come out of your room!” Every other door in the corridor opens to let out a lurching, glassy-eyed senior citizen.
- Homer’s summation of our current Golden Age of TV: “The only reason TV exists is for reality shows about white trash scuzzbags doing subhuman, made-up jobs.” He channel-surfs and lands on 15 different examples of the genre, from Swamp Huffers to Porn Hoarders: Texas. My favorite is Tiny Horses, Tiny Glue Factory, only because Lisa gets a glimpse of it, but American Tattoo Burner-Offers reminded me of Sons Of Anarchy and how hard it is for a cartoon to hint at some horror we haven’t already seen on basic cable. The whole channel-surfing sequence was like going scrolling through a hashtag game on Twitter, something else The Simpsons didn’t have to compete with in the ’90s.