I’ve said before that The Simpsons’ comedy is usually at its sharpest when dealing with political material, but if there’s another fertile ground where the show digs up lots of laughs it’s in its own backyard: Hollywood. In tonight’s outing, “Steal this Episode,” the show quite thoroughly savaged all sides of the issue of pirating Hollywood movies, modern blockbusters, spoiler culture and the current state of venturing to the cinema. Throw into the mix perhaps the largest collection of celebrity guest voices that the show’s done in a while, and you have a recipe for an average though still sometimes amusing episode.
So, what went wrong? Well, pirating jokes seem so 2002, and anyone who knows anything about computers knows that finding pirated movies online is about as easy as finding something on Youtube. If you can Google it, you can find it, and I, at least, grant Homer the benefit of having the intelligence to type something into Google. It’s also nice to know that The Simpsons is still getting mileage out of the train crash sequence from The Fugitive more than 20 years later. Considering that they already had a go at that one all the way back during part II of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” they could have at least sent-up the plane crash sequence from U.S. Marshals for the sake of originality.
Let’s start at the beginning though. Homer endeavours to avoid spoilers for the new Radioactive Man, which is really more of a de-boot than a sequel. Frustratingly being left behind by the zeitgeist and thrown out of the 3-D screening after making a fuss about the pre-show commercials, Bart introduces his father to online movie piracy. But this computer crime leads Homer to a rare moment of altruism, as he decides to screen the pirated movies for friends and neighbours in the Simpsons’ backyard, thus not paying exorbitant ticket prices for a miserable theatrical experience.
Enter the FBI lead by Deputy Director Gratman (guest voice Will Arnett of Arrested Development fame). The FBI’s disproportionately huge movie piracy operation zeroes in on Homer’s operation after getting a tip from, of all people, Marge. Marge, ever the guilty conscience of the family, sent a cheque for the price of a movie ticket to the Hollywood studio that owns the latest Judd Apatow comedy that Homer screened. And with that, Gratman and his men set out to arrest, and hopefully stage the prison suicide of Homer Simpson, criminal mastermind.
I admit that there’s something funny about the notion of FBI overkill in regards to the issue of movie piracy. I especially laughed when Gratman mocks one of his agents for responding to the question, “Why are you here?” by saying, “I wanted to catch serial killers.” And since Apatow is the subject of mockery, with Homer screening a “movie based on his life, starring his family, and adlibbed by his friends,” it’s only fair that the real Apatow is on hand to testify against Homer. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann appear in the offending fake film, and Seth Rogen gets a chance to poke fun at himself, noting his dependence on Apatow for career relevance. Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford completes the cameo-a-thon, but there are so many celebrity guests that all that name cache doesn’t go very far, I’m afraid.