The relationship between Bart Simpson (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) and Springfield Elementary School’s stuffed-shirt Principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) has always been a fruitful one to explore for The Simpsons.
That tradition continues in the long-running animated sitcom’s latest episode, entitled “Game Done Changed” (a reference to the acclaimed 2002 HBO drama series The Wire), in which Bart and Seymour team up to run a covert video-game scam on school property.
“Game Done Changed” begins with Bart being caught by his mother Marge (Julie Kavner) swearing while playing a virtual-reality game in which he attacks the Vatican. As punishment, Bart is forced to play a children’s game called Boblox (I’m guessing this is a parody of Roblox, though I have not experienced that particular system for myself). When his best friend Milhouse (Pamela Hayden) comes over to play with him, the pair discover a glitch thanks to the Simpsons’ decades-old Coleco computer. In Boblox, Bart and Milhouse are able to rack up the in-game currency known as “Bobux” (again, a parody of Roblox’s “Robux,” as a cursory bit of research informed me) by selling a cosmetic upgrade in the form of a fashionable pink mohawk to other users. Then they realize that Springfield Elementary has a whole fleet of these outdated computers, so they move their operation to the school’s lab. There, Bart must cut Skinner in on the deal, who agrees to look the other way on the scam because he believes the extra money will help him build a state-of-the-art theater and turn his workplace into a performing-arts school. Meanwhile, Marge discovers that she can communicate with Maggie via emoji in Boblox, so she and the baby (and later Homer, voiced by Dan Castellaneta, and Yeardley Smith’s Lisa) begin spending a lot of time in the game’s virtual universe.
Soon Bart and Skinner discover that they face competition in their Boblox scheme from a local Montessori school, so they visit there to make a deal, but Seymour ends up losing his cool and threatening the competitors with a turf war (here’s where The Wire homage comes into play). After a back-and-forth both in-game and out, Skinner concedes his loss and things return to normal, except for a wellness-checking Ned Flanders (also Shearer) finding the Simpson family– sans Bart– immersed in Boblox on their devices to a somewhat frightening level. Then the credits play over a clever tribute to The Wire’s main title sequence, complete with a cover of the song “Way Down in the Hole.” I’d actually say “clever” is a good word to describe “Game Done Changed” on the whole, as I enjoyed this episode far more than I expected going in, and it certainly counts among this current (34th) season’s highlights so far. There are plenty of laughs to be had and a fairly cohesive storyline that maybe feels a tiny bit outlandish– though forgivably so– and (probably my favorite part) a nice, sizable performance by Harry Shearer, who gets to show off his acting and singing chops. Sometimes it feels like Shearer has stepped back from his previously heavily featured roles on The Simpsons, but it’s nice to be reminded that he’s still around thanks to episodes like this that focus on one of his popular characters. I’m always very happy to say that a new Simpsons outing feels particularly strong, especially when compared to other recent installments, and I think “Game Done Changed” counts as that.
New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday evenings on FOX.