“The Book Job”–The Simpsons Make an Instant-Classic

I’ll be honest. I haven’t watched The Simpsons in a long time. I tend to prefer the older re-runs, even though I know nearly every line by heart. I grew up with it (I believe if Bart had aged in real time, he and I would be about the same age), enjoying the satire. But, having been on so long, the show didn’t seem as funny or as sharp as it used to. The torch had passed to South Park, whose production schedule is so much faster that it can crank out its satire in a far more timely fashion. But the most recent episode, “The Book Job,” was a return to form for The Simpsons. If you didn’t watch it or DVR it, you can watch it online here beginning November 29, 2011.

I DVR’d the episode because Neil Gaiman was doing a cameo. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t just a one-liner. Gaiman was a minor character, appearing throughout the episode. I was even happier to see references to everything from Harry Potter, Malcolm Gladwell, and even a classic Far Side comic.

Early in the episode, Lisa is dismayed to discover the woman she thought wrote some of her favorite books was only an actor hired by a publishing house to be the face of a book turned out by marketers (Apparently this episode was inspired by a New Yorker article about shows like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries that supposedly hire creatives to churn out material that will reflect the market research performed on tweens). Realizing there is a fortune to be made in writing tween fiction, Homer and Bart form a gang Ocean’s 11-style. Lisa, ever-disagreeing with Homer and Bart’s schemes, decides to sit down and write a more personal, more authentic book of her own.

While brainstorming ideas that will be most appealing to tweens, the gang runs into bestselling-author Neil Gaiman. He’s happy to join their gang, despite being told his job is to get everyone lunch and to ditch the English accent. The gang goes on to write the biggest piece of tween-bait, while Lisa becomes the stereotypical poser-writer, never getting beyond page one.

The gang meets with a publisher (voiced by Ocean’s 11 baddie Andy Garcia) who offers them a cool $1 million once they find a fake author. Enter Lisa, who is now desperate to be an author. The catch? The publisher wants to change everything. So the gang decides to break in and swap out the book’s file with that of their original work. I won’t spoil it here, but the ending has a great heist finale, complete with crosses and double-crosses.

The episode was perfectly timed, airing the same weekend the latest Twilight movie opened. It effectively skewered not only heist movies, but YA novels, publishing, and writing. And while it sounds like the episode might have spread itself too thin, it was actually very joke-filled and well-structured. The plot moved along quickly with great verbal and visual gags, especially in the background (You’ll be pausing the episode throughout to read the fake book titles briefly shown). If you’re a fan of “kid-lit,” writing, Gaiman, or the older, sharper Simpsons, you’ll love it.