It’s not that Elon Musk isn’t famous enough to guest star on The Simpsons as himself. Musk—billionaire entrepreneur, inventor, visionary, and so forth is certainly a powerful and influential guy, even if he’s not possessed of the sort of pop cultural name recognition the regular Simpsons celebrity self-parodier enjoys. It more that, from the title on down, “The Musk Who Fell To Earth” plays out more like a love letter to Musk than a proper Simpsons episode. It’s like some Simpsons writers met Musk at a TED talk, got smitten when they found out Musk was a fan, and turned an episode of the show over to him. Which would be less of a problem if the episode were well-thought-out and funny, Musk were an engaging comic presence, or the Simpsons themselves weren’t relegated to supporting status on their own show.
There have been plenty of real-life plutocrats (your Zuckerbergs, your Murdochs, your Cubans, and your Bezos) who’ve deigned to lend their voices to The Simpsons over the years, but traditionally only as drop-in supporting characters, not as the driving force behind an entire episode. Here, the decision to let Musk be the center of every plot point and character beat is deadening, not the least because of Musk’s flat, emotionless voice. (And no, having Homer call out Musk’s “flat, emotionless voice” at the end of the episode doesn’t change things.) Again, which wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if the show found a way to make that work in service of the comedy, or if the show around Musk were inventive on its own.
Instead, the episode begins with an extended gag about the Simpsons trapping the bald eagle that’s been feasting on the sparrows at Lisa’s bird feeder—only for Musk’s personal spaceship to vaporize the poor (if vicious) thing as he lands in the Simpsons’ backyard. With no couch gag his week, the hope is always that the body of the episode has too much story to waste, but once Musk lands and discovers that Homer’s nonsensical ramblings help break through his inventor’s block, instead we get a scattershot, innocuous episode which indulges its guest star to a handicapping degree.
Having befriended Homer, Musk accompanies him to the nuclear plant, where his ideas for improvement intrigue Mr. Burns enough that he teams up with Musk to bring Springfield into line with Musk’s futuristic plans, including a Futurama-stye tube transport system, driverless cars, Willie powering Springfield Elementary by turning a huge gear while wearing a loincloth, and the “Glayvenator,” whose unveiling causes Professor Frink to wail, “All those years of glayvening in my basement—all for naught!” It’s all mildly amusing, with the punchline being the utter impracticality of Musk’s inventions which, cool though they are, end up costing Burns $50 million a quarter and plunging Springfield into a new Depression. But whatever satire there is in pointing out the seemingly intractable war between idealistic and practical uses of science is diffused pretty hard by Musk’s front-and-center presence on the show. Sure, Musk’s inventions are impractical, but Musk’s imprimatur on the jokes lends an “all in good fun” tone to the episode that renders it irrelevant. Musk’s exit pronouncement “We sacrifice now to take care of the future in a way totally determined by me” might have some bite if he were a minor character, or if he weren’t involved in the show. (The same goes for his PowerPoint presentation: “No upside for years. Makes no financial sense but it’s cool. A terrible sacrifice now…That future generations may appreciate.”) As it is, his presence makes any joke at his expense an exercise in flattery. You can practically watch the show evaporate in front of you while you watch it.
It’s especially disappointing (and strange) that the Simpsons themselves have almost nothing to do with the main story. Homer serves as oblivious muse, and Lisa looks to the lonely, frustrated Musk as a kindred spirit (trying to stow away on his rocket at the end, she’s ejected, confessing sheepishly, “I just wanted to see if there was a better life—even for a little bit”), but that’s all the character development we get.
- “Until I met you I never thought I could love something bald.”
- “And if anyone asks you something you don’t understand, just say ‘protons.’”
- Musk’s suggestion box suggestion to Burns: “Installing an L.H.D. generator would allow the plant to operate at a higher temperature without the tyranny of moving parts. Using conducting plasma as the moving conductor (continued)…” I’ll leave it to you in the comments to decide whether that’s just gibberish.
- “Between your genius and my nothing we make a great team!”
- Musk’s password is “Musk Rulez.”
- “Your so-called savior isn’t interested in saving anything but the world!”
- “For a man who likes electric cars, he sure burns a lot of rocket fuel.”
- “Goodbye, Elon! Our town will never forgive you!”
- In case you’re as oblivious to Elon Musk’s accomplishments as I was: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk. He seems nice.