What a dismaying choice for a season premiere. This episode touches briefly on several different themes and tropes, but fails to grapple with any of them in a meaningful way. The result feels more like five or six different partial episodes stitched together.
Disjointed and disconnected
Bart tries to reconnect with his past girlfriends. And the Simpsons go to New York. And the show cynically questions the nature of relationships. And Marge and Lisa discover that New York is super expensive. And Zooey Deschanel is the guest star. And there is a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" parody/tribute/thing. Not to mention the horrible disaster of Springfield's auto race happening on the same day as its bicycle race, in the opening segment which is typically disconnected from the story anyway, so it hardly counts, but I felt obliged to include it here.
The call-back to the famous Klav Khalash joke only makes it worse somehow. That episode was filled with both the madcap energy and the peculiar optimism that marked The Simpsons in its heyday. This episode feels sour by comparison. Homer says some pretty cynical things about marriage, even for Homer. And there is a joke that riffs on the destruction of the World Trade Center that frankly felt more befitting South Park or Family Guy: shows that trade on shock humor and saying the unspeakable.
(Granted, the joke is "hidden" behind a buried reference. In order to get it, you have to remember Homer's infuriating experience with the World Trade Center in the previous New York episode. This only barely mitigates its sting, since who else is watching The Simpsons today except for the hardest of hard-core fans?)
The Simpsons go to New York in 2012, and what do they make fun of? Pickpockets. Shakespeare in the Park. High Prices. What DON'T they make fun of? The soda ban. Williamsburg hipsters. Gentrification. I'm not asking for the show to be hyper-topical. I'm just saying that this episode feels utterly generic and lazy.
In a broader sense, why did the Simpsons have to go to New York at all? It shows a real paucity of imagination to send them back there, given that Bart's girlfriend could have run away to literally anywhere. The Simpsons could have gone to Bangalore, Seattle, Dallas, Akron… heck, they could have visited one of the other 38 American towns named Springfield.
I dislike Zooey Deschanel intensely, and I was prepared to hate her in this episode. To my surprise, Zooey wasn't the worst thing about it. And when Zooey Deschanel is not the worst thing about your episode, you know you're in trouble.