Springfield gets its own true-crime documentary voiced by Ken Burns himself!
In a true-crime style documentary style episode by the name of “Dateline: Springfield” a mysterious crime impacts the Simpson Family. Lisa’s college fund of a few hundred dollars has gone missing from a can under the sink. Suspects begin to pile up from around town including members of the family. As each character is proven innocent, the documentary wraps up without solving the case. Will the show finish with the mystery unsolved, or will the guilty party admit to their crime?
It was just a couple of months ago that I questioned if The Simpsons were planning on mixing up their typical storytelling format for something a little different. With this being the second last episode of the season, the chances seemed slim. Yet, somehow they slipped this documentary-style mystery under the radar. Add this to the highly discussed episode “D’oh Canada” from last week, and it shows The Simpsons is working on ending season 30 with a bang. Aside from the annual Treehouse of Horrors, the series does not stray far from its typical comedy sitcom style. Needless to say, this was a refreshing episode from the start.
The fictional true-crime documentary hits all of the clichés that you would hope for. There is a 911 call with nothing, but a telephone in the frame as the text appears over top. And, the re-enactments are done in perfect The Simpsons style with actors performing the families roles with wigs and everything. Even a cat performs as Santa’s Little Helper while wearing a dog hat. But, what truly sells the documentary is the voice-over work performed by Ken Burns playing himself.
Speaking on guest appearances, there was big news when it was announced that Will Forte would be lending his voice talents for this episode. Unfortunately, his role as King Toot, owner of King Toot’s Music Store, had a minimal part to play and wasn’t heard from very much. Though, it is still a good move by the famous actor to reprise his role, even at such a minimal level.
The entertainment of this episode came from the introspective look at each of the family members as they are accused of the crime. True to each character, everything from their motives to their alibies represents themselves. Homer, for one, was accused of stealing his daughter’s college fund to pay off his bar tab at Moe’s Tavern, while Bart was accused of funding his massive slime making operation. Meanwhile, even Lisa is accused of stealing the money for a new saxophone, until it is outed that has been attending a Hop Scotch tutor to help her be more popular with the girls at school. Even Marge’s defeated gambling addiction was brought up and then dismissed in hilarious fashion.
It’s always fun to see The Simpsons change things up. There were concerns that the show has been repeating the same plots by many critics, including myself. The way that the second half of the season has been wrapping up should put most of those complaints to bed. We may be a distance away from the golden age of the show, but the talent and writers that this series still has is evident in episodes such as this one. With all the records broken, and The Simpsons continues on for more years to come, I would hope that we get more episodes like this where the status quo is shaken up for pure entertainment.