I’m not going to mince words here. “Moonshine River” is a mess of a Simpsons episode. The plot rapidly switches focus from act to act, but, unlike in its more successful cousins, none of the individual stories here satisfactorily merged into each other, or even led to a satisfying conclusion themselves.
The couch gag is overly long, and unless I’m missing some reference (and please, tell me if I am) lacks any kind of punchline. The first act, centering around a car race and bike race, is packed with small jokes, but most of them were hit and miss for me, and it only leads to Bart chasing after a number of ex-girlfriends, which becomes the main point of the episode.
Bart’s one who got away ends up being a heretofore unknown spawn of Cletus, who’s escaped to New York. She’s played by Zooey Deschanel, and while I appreciate a guest star playing an actual character instead of a Simpsonized version of themselves, it still feels like a big fat nothing. And she sings a song, because of course she does, because apparently Zooey Deschanel is not contractually allowed to make an appearance unless she gets a musical number. It’s terribly boring.
What most disappointed me about this episode, however, was the sideplot Lisa and Marge were relegated to. It came out of nowhere, with no establishment in the episode before they arrived in NYC, and a barely existent conclusion.
To be honest, I think I’m only harping on all this plot stuff because not too many of the gags hit me. There were funny parts, to be sure; “Scab Calloway and his non-union band” got me, as did Homer’s comment about their ancestor, Fievel. But it simply wasn’t at the level I know The Simpsons can achieve A more solid amount of laughs, and the flimsiness of the story wouldn’t have stuck out so much to me. Let’s just hope that The Simpsons, going forward, picks back up at least a little, and that this isn’t an indicator of the overall quality of the 24th season.