After a long winter break to accommodate the Olympics, the Oscars and anything else that sucked eyes away from the show to other places in this valuable prime time real estate, The Simpsons returned with double the normal number of episodes. Both episodes visited some old themes and ideas, but only one seemed to make anything worthwhile out of the recycled material.
Working backwards, the second new episode began with a seeming tribute to the night’s big premiere of the Cosmos revival, but “The Man Who Grew Too Much” should have played to a couple of The Simpsons big strengths: Lisa’s sometimes irritating brand of liberalism, the sometimes misguided evangelicalism of the First Church of Springfield and, of course, the return of Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer).
It what had to be another node to Cosmos, the pitiful state of American education (or maybe just Springfield education) is mined for laughs, but soon the allure of Taco Tuesday takes ahold of the students. And Homer. And Lenny. And Carl. Lisa learns that the veggies no one eats with their tacos are genetically-modified, and the middle Simpson child springs into action get the PTA better informed. Lisa’s work draws the attention of Monsanto, who invite the Simpsons to tour their Springfield facility and meet their head scientist, Sideshow Bob.
Back around the time I stopped watching The Simpsons religiously, one of the reasons had to do with an episode featuring Sideshow Bob. It was season 17’s “The Italian Bob,” the one where Bob had settled down with a family and become mayor of Tuscany. Something about that entry felt off and stale. Bob was always a cartoonish super-villain, but the writers seemed to stop using him to say anything meaningful: the avarice of celebrity, the corruption of politics, sibling rivalry, or just a good spin on the classic Cape Fear. All that was left was evil scheming for its own ends, but could “The Man Who Grew Too Much” do something fun and interesting with Bob again?
The answer is kind of. Lisa builds a friendship with Bob, coming together over their loves of Walt Whitman and science-y things. At a day trip to the museum though, Lisa learns that Bob is not nearly as rehabilitated as he’s led people to think. It turns out that Bob hasn’t just been modifying food, but he’s been modifying himself and he’s come to the museum to collect DNA from famous American heroes to further augment himself. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’re a fan of the 80s G.I. Joe cartoon and you recall that this scheme is how Dr. Mindbender created the Cobra Emperor Serpentor, by cooking him up from the DNA of the world’s greatest tyrants.