Review: The Simpsons “The Great Phatsby”

This is the last episode of The Simpsons for a month, but it was an hour long and featured a mess of guest stars. Was it worth the hype? Find out in our review.

Spoilers Below, Twice as Many as Usual

The Simpsons did it” is a truth that has challenged much of the television landscape for a while now. The Simpsons itself has struggled with it for at least a decade, maybe two. But somehow, one thing this show has never done is a two-part, one-hour episode … until now, 28 seasons in. But this latest frontier for the show is hardly unheard of. It has been a common tool of the TV trade for a while now. If this were the show’s Golden Age, surely The Simpsons would reinvent the 2-parter. But it is not the Golden Age, it is 2017. So what can it offer now?

The short answer is: high(er than usual) production values, splashy guest stars, and playing it safe. “The Great Phatsby” is a pleasant way to start off your Sunday evening, but not much more. For as hyped as it has been, that moderate success is disappointing.

The actual plot has a big enough feeling to it to justify the extra time. It is a hip-hop soap opera, which in Springfield means a Great Gatsby parody. Mr. Burns decides to throw a lavish soiree, but since all of his preferred guests are either dead or fictional, Homer is tasked with rounding up the usual supporting characters. Alas, Burns has no idea how to kick back and have fun, so he and Homer end up crashing another party, a Gatsby-esque blowout hosted by rap mogul “Jay G.”

The two bond over their shared billions, with Jay teaching Monty the pleasures of actually spending his money, by way of granting him an “Obsidian Card,” which every merchant in the world is required to accept despite its mysterious origins. Because Homer just happens to be there, he gets to tag along as well. He forms a tight bond with Jay’s goose “Goosious,” which proves to be the most heartwarming and most heartbreaking part of the episode.

It turns out, though, that Mr. Burns has been played. He has no sense of how to stick to a budget, and even more devastatingly, Jay G is the one running Obsidian. Brought to his lowest, Burns turns to Homer to claw his way back. They recruit Bart for his pranking skills, and they decide that the best way to ruin a hip-hip impresario is by destroying his reputation. To figure out the best way to do that, they turn to Millhouse, who, as a white nerd, is the biggest expert on hip-hop. This sounds like a simplistic joke about stereotypes, and it may start there, but it is also well thought-out and respectful. The emphasis is on the “nerd” part – Milhouse needs diagrams and a PhD-level commitment to keep track of all the relationships in this genre.

This is the point at which all the big name guest stars burst onto the scene. First up is Keegan-Michael Key as Jazzy James (who briefly appears earlier in the episode and drops some lampshading about how he will return). James and Jay G used to be band mates in The Five Boyfriends, which is an excellent fictional band name – I can totally imagine so many new jack panties being swung at The 5 B’s in the ’90s. In a perfunctory nod to Empire, Taraji P. Henson joins in as Jay’s ex Praline, alongside Common, RZA, and Snoop Dogg as themselves. They collaborate on a Jay G diss track, which is far from the most hilarious musical moment in Simpsons history, but it is good enough. When you have three of the best rappers in the game, you know they can’t help but bring it.

The revenge will not be so simple, though, as Jay has gotten ahead of the scheme by buying the rights to the master recording of the diss. (His brandishing of a thumb drive as he makes this declaration is be the sight gag of the episode.)

In one last struggle for power, Burns and Jay find themselves about to die of “natural causes” (i.e., “a business deal gone wrong”). It turns out that Jay has been as ruthless and indestructible as Freddy Krueger, because of the absolute lessons that Burns himself espouses in his book The Rungs of Ruthlessness. They reach a sort of treaty of mutual respect and are saved from destroying themselves by the return of Smithers, who has been away for most of the episode in a fairly amusing runner on an errand to retrieve ice for the party. In other words, it is about as happy an ending as possible for two Brothers in Avarice.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives, but according to Homer, “he never said anything about second parts on a TV show.” Indeed he most assuredly never said any such thing, both because TV came after his time, and also because it is simply not true. Not only are 2-part episodes a thing, there are also reboots galore and shows that last well past their primes, some of which actually find a second wind of greatness. It sounds hokey when Homer says it, but this is a point that applies so thoroughly to The Simpsons. In most immediate terms, does “The Great Phatsby” justify its extra length? I would say no, this story could have adequately fit into a normal 22 minutes. But there is nothing to make this decision egregious. In Season 28 terms, that is more a success than not.

Memorable Lines and Random Jazz:

-The Simpson ladies sit out the main plot but are given plenty to do on their own. When Lisa unexpectedly convinces the Springfield Hamptons’ most obnoxious brat to turn socially conscious, it at first looks like she has an easy win. But she finds herself dealing with quite the moral dilemma. Does she stick to her ideals, or accept another offer to gain access to the horse stalls but also possibly thereby support cruelty? This is a weighty enough story to stand on its own, but it is given enough room to make its point as is. Meanwhile, Marge finds herself quite accidentally in charge of a little boutique, which is a rather slight subplot, but at least it gives her something to do.

-That was really Charles Barkley voicing himself? It sounded like a bad impression, and he was only there for one line anyway.

-“You seem glum, sir. How about a blood transfusion?”

-“When I wrote an advice book, I never dreamed it would help anyone.”

-“Searching for an open grave in which to barf”