Flatter than a three-day-old glass of room temperature Coke
I frequently find myself defending The Simpsons, both online and off, against charges that the show has gotten lazy and tired and should be allowed to quietly die with dignity. But episodes like "Changing of the Guardians" make my task really hard. Because in every possible way, this episode is exactly what the haters are talking about. Not one single thing that a character does in this episode makes sense, either for the character or in the world at large. Everything happened for no other reason than because the script says it happens.
The premise is tired. The show has already answered its own question, and answered it better, years ago. ("Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily," the seventh season episode in which the kids are taken from Marge and Homer and given to the Flanders as foster children until Marge and Homer prove they are responsible parents. It originally aired in 1995, if you want to feel super old and cranky.)
Worse still, they don't really do anything with it. The concept seems to be as exhausting to the characters as it is to us. I'm not going to complain that it's not realistic that parents would go cruising the beach for strangers to act as adoptive parents in case both of the biological parents die. "Not realistic" is a silly complaint for an animated show. No, I'm complaining that it's boring and stupid. And even worse than that, it totally wastes Rashida Jones.
It's too bad, too, because there were some great moments in the beginning of the episode. As someone with a standing monthly appointment to play Settlers of Catan with a group of friends, I found the Simpsons' derisive treatment of the Settlers-like board game absolutely hilarious. Not to mention Bart's comment about how they can't play Twister because every time, his elbow touches Homer's junk. And while the sight gag about Moe drowning a sack of kittens struck an unnecessarily cruel note, the gag with the dog coughing up the frog that coughs up the spider (and then in reverse) made me laugh.
Then Marge and Homer get stuck inside a bank façade, and it's all downhill from there.
More than any other recent episode, this one made me wish that the show would let the fanfic writers take a crack at it. Simpsons fanfic may not always be the greatest work in western literature, but at least the fanfic writers care about the show. I'm starting to wonder whether the actual paid staff writers do or not.