“You took a new job in a strange town without discussing it with your family?” – Marge Simpson
“Of course not. I wouldn’t do that! Why not?” – Homer Simpson
“We have roots here, Homer. We have friends and family and library cards. Bart’s lawyer is here.” – Marge Simpson
The most obvious option for doing a Compare & Contrast for “The Town” would be to a travel episode that’s actually coherent, say, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” or “Bart vs. Australia”. These kinds of stories and jokes work better if the family has an actual reason to go someplace. It also helps to have them do something while they’re there. Zombie Simpsons mostly sticks with having them describe what they see and then tell us how they feel about the things they’re describing.
Instead, the better comparison here is “You Only Move Twice”. In most travel episodes, the family goes someplace, does some stuff, and then returns to Springfield. “The Town” certainly contains all that, but for no real reason they also decided to have the family actually move to Boston, though not until about the 2/3 mark of the episode.
Because they did it so late, and with no build up or warning other than Marge and Homer talking about it right before it happens, the move is a great example of how inhuman Zombie Simpsons and its stories have become. The first time we see the family try to leave Springfield for good is in “Dancin’ Homer”. Once Homer gets called up to the mascot big leagues, we see the family discuss moving, we see them prepare to move, and we get scenes like Bart and Milhouse becoming spit brothers and Lisa lamenting that her parting with the other girls means very little because they’re not very good friends. In “Cape Feare”, the family doesn’t just up and move at the drop of a hat, they’ve got to go through the FBI and even then they forget Grampa and his pills. Both of those episodes treat moving as the major life change it is because to ignore all that is to reduce your characters to inanimate playthings that have no feelings or humanity.
The real parallel, though, is “You Only Move Twice”, where the family pulls up stakes for sunnier pastures and then gradually learns to hate their new home. It’s only after Marge and Bart start going nuts from boredom and Lisa gets reduced to a sniffling mess that the rest of the clan pressures Homer into returning to Springfield. It’s the kind of episode people are thinking of when they praise the show for being a family story at heart. Homer loves his new job and his new boss – partly because he’s completely oblivious to the fact that he works for a supervillain – but in the end he can’t say no to Marge and the kids.
That would all be schmaltzy if we hadn’t seen it build up so well. Bart’s misery gives us the Cypress Creek Milhouse who needs someone to boss him around, Bart thinking cursive means “hell, and damn, and bitch”, and – of course – the Leg Up Program.
He’s from Canada and they think he’s slow, eh?
Lisa is initially happy before the nature she reveres turns on her, with even little Northern Reticulated chipmunks sending her into a sneezing frenzy.
Don’t worry, Lisa, an owl will probably get him.
Marge doesn’t know what to do with herself, what with the vacuum on dirt patrol and Maggie enjoying her swing-a-majig, so the episode gives us the headfake that she’s turning into a drunk when she can only drink half a glass of wine per day.
Doctors say she should finish that glass, but she just can’t drink that much.
Because this is Season 8 and this script is tighter than a drum, each family member goes through a reversal. Bart’s finally at a school where he can’t get in trouble, but he hates it more than Springfield Elementary. Lisa’s in a place that’s far better suited to her than Springfield’s small town dumpiness, but she’s more miserable than ever. Marge, relieved of the housework that fills her days, doesn’t know what to do with herself.
Homer – usually the most miserable Simpson – is the only one who’s happy there, so when he makes the sacrifice of moving back to Springfield it actually matters. And, of course, all of this is going on against one of the show’s most brilliantly demented backdrops ever: the Bond villain who loves his employees and is scheming to take over the East Coast.
The Homer of “The Town” is the opposite. He takes them to Boston to spite Bart and then falls in love with the place in a single, heavily exposited scene:
Homer: One pin standing. Story of my life.
Guy Who Just Walked Over From Nowhere And Is Probably A Boston Reference I Didn’t Get And Will Disappear After His Second Line: Whoa, there, pal. Don’t forget your third ball.
Homer: Hold on, wait. Wait. Hold on. Wait. What?
GWJWOFNAIPABRIDGAWDAHSL: This is candlepin bowling. You get three.
Homer: Three balls? I see it all so clearly now!
Bart: What, Dad? What is it?
Homer: This regional bowling with its one extra roll has knocked my misguided hate into the gutter. I like Boston.
Bart: Dad, you and me are real father-son Southies now, just like Ben and Casey Affleck.
Homer: Son, show me everything this town has to offer.
Naturally, the random exposition dude disappears just as quickly as he appears.
Zombie Simpsons enjoys having characters materialize out of thin air for the purposes of exposition.
From there it goes into a montage, then we see Homer tell us what he’s eating, and then he and Marge decide that they’re just going to move to Boston. There’s no depth and no character to anything these characters are saying or doing. Homer had spent the previous five minutes telling us how much he hates Boston, then he changed his mind and told us why out loud. It’s a reversal and life change so huge and shallow that it’s basically inhuman.
The only silver lining is that it does set up an equally inhuman re-reversal five minutes later. That one involves Homer going through a giant struggle to put on a baseball cap that there’s no clear reason he needs to wear in the first place. For some reason, this also means that the family has to move back to Springfield.
What makes the move in “The Town” so spectacularly dumb, however, is that it’s completely unnecessary. The family could fall in love with Boston only to have Homer get them all kicked out without running roughshod over a major life change. But that would mean writing the Simpson family as if they were still supposed to represent real people, and Zombie Simpsons gave up on that a long time ago.