Every so often The Simpsons does something a bit different just to shake things up a little, and one of those they tend to do about once a season is to bring in a new writer, be it a cast member, a highly praised comedian, or an acclaimed scribe who’s never worked on the show before. That’s included giving some of the cast a shot at writing episodes like Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright and Harry Shearer, while last season saw Megan Amram create one of the funniest shows in a long time, and now they’ve given stand up comic Pete Holmes a two-parter, the first since Season 28’s The Great Phatsby.
Holmes is famously a Christian who talks a lot about religion in his reasonably okay but nothing that amazing stand up, so perhaps it’ll come as no surprise that this episode heavily features Reverend Lovejoy while The Simpsons themselves are mostly supporting characters. Now like many a comedy critic I’m a disgusting atheist who will no doubt burn in hell for all eternity, but I was hoping that despite the Christian element it would still be one of the better episodes of The Simpsons due to Holmes’ involvement.
Such optimism was misguided however, as it’s a pretty weak affair. The plot sees Reverend Lovejoy once again failing to ignite religious fervour in his congregation but when Helen Lovejoy recruits a new youth pastor in the form of Bode (Holmes himself, though looking far more handsome than he does in real life) and Reverend Lovejoy conveniently loses his voice, soon Bode is a hit with the congregation and Lovejoy is out of a job. It’s impossible to get excited about this event though given that Reverend Lovejoy is one of the worst characters the show has ever created, nearly always an one note joke about how boring priests are, as well as the fact that the reset button is almost certainly going to be pressed at the end of the second part.
I have no real interest in finding out either and because the first episode was so bland will only do so by reading about it online. I suppose I should stress that there were some pluses, it’s not a complete disaster and there’s a few jokes which worked well, including one where one of the elderly members of the congregation expresses with shock “New Testamant? Ai-yai-yai, when did this happen?”, while when Reverend Lovejoy is fired and asked to hand over his crosses it’s a reasonably amusing moment, especially as true to the trope it’s spoofing he has one hidden away.
But these gags are the best of an extremely average bunch, and the rest of the time this feels like a very poorly disguised advert for Christianity, where Bode waxes on and on about his own beliefs comes out with nonsense like “You don’t have to earn God’s love, you are God’s love” and how “God’s right here and now, as close as the air on your skin”. It’s bland stuff for sure, and there’s just way too much of it an episode that feels preachy in all of the worst kind of ways, coming at the expense of scenes which are actually funny.
The Simpsons has nearly always respected the concept of religion as season four’s Homer The Heretic showed with it’s message that all faiths should be appreciated equally, and that God should be worshipped in whatever way you feel best personally, and that’s something I’ve no issue with at all, indeed Homer The Heretic is one of my all time favourite episodes because it’s so funny. But the way Holmes delivers a selection of very tired jokes about faith and beliefs is extremely disappointing, and some of it is just plain bizarre, like Bode’s supposedly successful attempt at marriage counselling which involves Homer and Marge literally swapping shoes, and a trippy sequence with Lisa meditating might be briefly pretty but the pay off is a crappy one.
Perhaps the second part of the story will see me regretting such a harsh review, but I’d be amazed if that was the case. The first would still contain far too many unfunny preachy moments, and gags which are either tired or just plain naff, and it’d still centre around two very different but equally as bland characters I’ve tried but failed to like. So all I can hope is that it’s actually got a decent gag rate, with those jokes landing too, but Holmes has given me very little reason to believe that will be the case however much I may want to.
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