There are several Canadians on the writing staff of The Simpsons. And from the vantage point of a writers’ room in Los Angeles, their Canada recedes into crude cliché and stereotypes. In the end, they decide that the United States is a much more attractive place.
That’s the upshot of our takeaway from the Canada-themed episode of the show that aired on Fox (City TV in Canada) on Sunday evening. Whatever these Canadian writers feel about Canada now, it isn’t really affection or respect. It’s more like adolescent derision.
The Simpsons is a tired old comedy, but on the evidence of Sunday’s episode it’s worse than you thought. If you haven’t seen it for years, know that it’s a creaky, wheezing vehicle, sputtering along. You look on it and pity its occupants.
What happens is that Homer realizes he’s accumulated enough points for a free stay at a “Second-Best Western” hotel. He takes the family to Niagara Falls, N.Y. Along the way there are obvious jokes about that part of New York State being dilapidated, all closed factories and empty malls. Once in Niagara Falls, Lisa ends up in the water and lands on the Canadian side.
Crawling out, she says, “Where am I? Am I in heaven?” A Mountie on a horse informs her, “Even better, you’re in Canada.” Next, Lisa is in hospital to recover from her rough crossing from the United States. Her family panics but somebody coos, “You’re in Canada now, where health care is free.” After ranting about the awfulness of the United States, Lisa is designated an asylum-seeker. Then comes a hockey joke. Lisa’s told she’s to be assigned her own hockey team. She prays it isn’t Ottawa, but it is. Hilarious, eh?
Ensconced in “Alanis Morissette Elementary School,” Lisa instantly has a Canadian accent, which involves saying ”aboot” and “eh” a lot. She wants to talk to the Prime Minister and is told she can talk to him on Skype any time. She does just that.
Thus the much-hyped appearance of Justin Trudeau unfolds for about a minute. Trudeau tells Lisa he’s not bothered by being called “weak” by certain persons in the United States. To illustrate, he does a hand plank on his desk. Specifically, the advanced yoga pose called Mayurasana. Doing this, he moves around his desk and when Lisa says, “If I could ask you one question about SNC-Lavalin,” Trudeau disappears out the window. That’s it. Clever, eh?
The hopeless attempts at cleverness continue. “I’m sure you treat all peoples equally,” says Lisa, speaking, it seems, to a group of Canadian kids holding curling brooms. “Except the Québécois,” one replies. “And the Newfies. Stupid Newfies.”
One figure shouts, "I'm a Newfie!" and clubs the head off a stuffed, baby seal.
There is context to this crude caricature. Some years go, the late Sam Simon, a co-creator of the show, went to Newfoundland and Labrador and offered sealers money to give up the practice and disown the seal hunt. But no context makes the jab funny or allows it to transcend low-level bigotry and spite.
One thing leads to another and Marge Simpson goes to some trouble to rescue daughter Lisa from Canada. Her journey involves jokes about beer. Eventually Marge and Lisa discuss how the United States isn’t that bad, really. The country’s like “a great boyfriend that got a little fat and lost some hair.”
A parade of U.S. icons appear to illuminate how great the United States actually is, compared to the backwater that is the Canada where Lisa has been stuck. “I wanna go home,“ Lisa wails. And who could possibly have seen that coming? A figure meant to represent writer Judy Blume tells Lisa, “Felling awkwardness about your country is normal.” Marge and Lisa’s tricky journey home over a frozen river is best left unmentioned. It’s that pointlessly unfunny.
Over the closing credits we hear O Canada, but just before that the ultimate insult is directed at Canada. That is, the ultimate contempt as expressed by a Canadian writing a U.S. comedy from the vantage point of a writers’ room in L.A. See, back at the school Lisa attended in Canada the students are told they have to watch an episode of The Beachcombers.
That old CBC show defines Canada and its culture to those Canadians in the L.A. writers’ room. It makes them feel smug. But nobody involved is this lame, lazily constructed episode of The Simpsons should feel smug about their talent or wit.