Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Simpsons” Episode “The Book Job”
When was the last time you watched a new episode of The Simpsons? Yeah, same here — a long time! At this point, I would guess that I have only seen a third of the episodes produced to date, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you remember that there have been almost FIVE HUNDRED EPISODES of The Simpsons. That is a lot of episodes. Perhaps too many! Who’s to say.
But while you, me and most comedy snobs have abandoned the show at some point in the last decade, The Simpsons has continued to turn out episodes with a continually impressive roster of guest stars. Last season alone they had Cheech and Chong, Halle Berry, Hugh Laurie, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, a whole bunch of other people…
And this season, they had Neil Gaiman, which is what brings us together today. Frank, ostensibly I’m telling you about a recent Simpsons episode because revisiting the show this late into its run makes for an interesting intellectual exercise. But the real reason I’m writing this is that despite the fact that I’ve been a tremendous fan of his work for over a decade, Neil Gaiman has started annoying me over the last year or so, and I need to spend a thousand words or so working out why that is. Sorry, Frank. We’ll get through this together.
We start, in classic Simpsons fashion, with something super-random — in this case, a parody of that Walking With Dinosaurs show that I heard was really cool but, according to The Simpsons, is terrifying to small children. This leads to the sight gag of Apu being dragged out of the theater by his dozen screaming kids; I’d forgotten about the slightly racist thing where Apu has, what, octuplets? Hmmm. Is that slightly racist, the Indian guy having a ton of children? I don’t know. But I always liked early-years Apu, before the wife and the kids, when he was more enigmatic and occasionally went on spiritual quests with Homer. Wait. Is THAT racist? I should probably stop talking about Apu now.
While at the dinosaur show, Lisa sees one of her favorite young adult authors, who for simplicity’s sake we’ll call Not J.K. Rowling, and bum-rushes her with nerd questions about Not Harry Potter. However, Not J.K. can’t answer said questions, because Not J.K. isn’t actually the author of the Not-Harry Potter franchise. Instead, she’s an actress hired to pose as the front of a massive organization turning out endless amounts of wizard fiction written by committee.
This crushes Lisa and inspires Homer to put together his own team for a similar con — we thus enter the Ocean’s Eleven parody portion of the proceedings, featuring Bart, Professor Frink, Principal Skinner, Moe and Aunt Patty — or Selma? Let’s ask Wikiped– HOLY SHIT, Frank! I totally forgot that Patty came out as a lesbian, like, years ago. I guess that’s what happens when you stop watching a show for 12 years.
Anyways, it’s Aunt Patty. Each gets asked to join the team for their various specialties (Patty knows young adult fantasy tropes, Skinner’s “the best kid guy in the business,” Frink has a computer), and Homer and Bart talk obliquely how this deal will make them square for what went down in Kansas City that one time, which is probably my favorite part of the whole episode. “This better not turn out like Kansas City.” “It won’t be like Kansas City.”
The team cobbles together their idea (orphaned youngster goes to a magical school and finds out that he’s a magical creature — in this case, a troll) at a local bookstore, but who should be eavesdropping but author Neil Gaiman, who volunteers his services in helping them create a best-selling fantasy franchise. And he is SO. FUCKING. SMUG about how he is a successful writer of fantasy fiction. At least he doesn’t mention his wife. WHY DON’T YOU MENTION YOUR WIFE AGAIN, NEIL? YOUR HOT MUSICIAN WIFE THAT YOU GO ON TOUR WITH? COULDN’T FIT HER INTO THE SCRIPT, COULD YOU?
The answer is no, they couldn’t. Instead, they put him to work as a gopher during a quick little book-writing montage (scored to one of Dave Holmes’s songs from Ocean’s 11 for that extra Ocean’s 11 flavor, which basically plays on a loop over the course of the rest of the episode). And then their book is done! And a publisher is interested! Except, whoops, they forgot to create a fake author with an inspiring story as a front.
Fortunately for them, Frank, while they’ve been writing their con book, Lisa’s been trying to write her own novel — insert here a lot of super-obvious jokes about how writers procrastinate and don’t get anything done. (On first viewing, some of these jokes made me smile a bit, because they are jokes I do not struggle to understand, but in retrospect THIS FLIGHT TO OBVIOUS, JOKESYLVANIA NOW BOARDING AT GATE 52A.)
Frustrated by the creative process, she agrees to pretend to have written The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy, and the book is thus sold to an Evil Publisher! The Evil Publisher is played by Andy Garcia in yet another double-plus-subtle homage to Ocean’s 11. Well played, show.
Oh, but then TWIST! The gang discovers that the Evil Publisher has changed the book from being about trolls to being about vampires, for the obvious reasons, and they realize that in the process of trying to con innocent young minds and make millions, they actually ended up taking pride in their original novel. This gets explained to them by Neil Gaiman, because HE’S SO SMART AND SO FUCKING GREAT WHY DON’T YOU TALK SOME MORE ABOUT HOW GREAT IT IS TO BE YOU, NEIL GAIMAN, PRETTY PLEASE.
And thus the team sets out to break into the publishing house and swap the new novel with their original version for publication, which is done with some nifty split-screened animation that actually looks really great. Of course, they’re caught, and TWIST! Lisa reveals that she’s betrayed the team so that she can see her authorial dreams come true — but actually, she’s conned the publisher, and saved the day!
Oh, except that the flash drive Lisa used to make the switch lists Neil Gaiman as the author! TWIST! HAHAHAHAHAH he got the final con after all! And that explains why he was hanging around making the gang tuna salad, because he was planning on conning them! HAHAHAHAHA NEIL GAIMAN YOU’RE SO FUNNY AND SELF-DEPRECATING EVEN THOUGH IT’S JUST ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO POINT OUT HOW SUCCESSFUL YOU ACTUALLY ARE AND ALSO TALENTED AND ALSO HAVE YOU SEEN HIS HOT MUSICIAN WIFE? SHE’S REALLY HOT AND ALSO A MUSICIAN WHO IS FAMOUS ON THE INTERNET.
Anyways, the end. Oh, except that Moe was in on the Gaiman twist and he meets Neil Gaiman for a celebratory drink on Shelbyville Beach but Neil Gaiman poisons the drink. AHAHAHAHAH AGAIN. SO FUNNY, NEIL GAIMAN. YOU REALLY DELIVERED THOSE PUNCHLINES. WELL DONE.
So it was a fairly enjoyable episode of television, Frank, if not anywhere near the show’s original years of glory. And I think I figured out what bothers me about Neil Gaiman these days! Gaiman was fairly successful when I first became a fan, and not all of his work was a win for me (love his short stories, love Good Omens, enjoyed his Doctor Who episode, like many of his comics, let’s not talk about Stardust). But his writing about writing was really inspiring to me, because he was open and honest and vulnerable about the craft; there was a “You can too!” tone to his blogging.
But I cannot have a hot musician wife and a co-starring role as myself on The Simpsons and Matt Smith’s cell phone number (not right now, anyway); Neil Gaiman has left his humble roots behind for the glamorous life of a rock star, and thanks to social media I am constantly reminded of it.
It’s stupid of me to resent him for this, Frank. I’m actually quite happy for him, when I think about it. He’s never done me any harm, he continues to do good things for charities and other people, and he has a good life. There is nothing wrong with that.
And yet. That’s the human heart for you. Fickle, and dumb, and easily broken.