91. $pringfield (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)

(originally aired December 16, 1993)
This is one of those episodes where not much seems to happen plot-wise. I read that fans were crowing back in this day that this season and last season suffered from gags and humorous set pieces replacing a solid through story, but I say if you have a fair premise and a lot of great jokes, how can you really complain? Faced with an economic crisis, Springfield agrees to legalize gambling and open a casino, where Marge gets addicted to gambling. That’s pretty much the main story, with little peppered elements by Homer, Bart and Mr. Burns. Our show opens with some focus in showing us a prosperous 1940s Springfield dissolve into the crummy, dilapidated 1990s. A tasteful gag involving Homer putting on glasses he found in the toilet actually fits with the theme: Burns is forced to make layoffs, but hesitates when he spies a bespeckled Homer (“Better keep the egghead. He just might come in handy.”) Even with a thin plot, at least all the jokes are derived from a consistent source.

Burns’ casino on the waterfront is a rousing success, captivating young and old alike. Homer is hired from within to be a blackjack dealer, whose feeble understanding of the game makes his a popular table. It’s here we get the first appearance of the Rich Texan, a character who is mostly associated with the later seasons, here quite funny out of the box (“Homer, I want you to have my lucky hat. I wore it the day Kennedy was shot, and it always brings me good luck.”) Bart is tossed out for being underage and inspired by the hecklings of the teenage management opens his own casino in his treehouse. We get some good gags out of it, and a very special musical guest Robert Goulet, singing the very same naughty Jingle Bells tune that introduced Bart way back in 1989. Most interesting here is Mr. Burns, a man who craves money and power, who appears to have found the perfect business (“People swarm in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off!”) As such he becomes a paranoid wreck, adopting Howard Hughes style germophobia and Kleenex-box shoes.

The main story off the casino is Marge becomes a compulsive gambler, addicted to slot machines. The Simpson household falls to ruins without her, leading Homer to finally confront his wife about her problem. It’s interesting to see straightened arrow Marge to have a vice, but it doesn’t really build to much, that and the stuff with Homer fending the house by himself is kind of reminiscent of “Marge in Chains” or “Homer Alone.” But, again, jokes save all: Homer’s insane overreaction about the Boogeyman (“Bart, I don’t want to alarm you, but there may be a boogeyman or boogeymen in this house!”) and Homer’s make-shift meal, consisting of cloves, Tom Collins mix and pie crust (the sound effect of him taking a bite is wonderful, then the pause and Homer uttering, “Let’s go see Mom.”) It’s nice they left the show open-ended, like Marge wasn’t going to cure her addiction that quickly, but all-in-all I kind of wish they did more with the plot. It could have been a bit more emotionally charged. But that aside, this is a really funny show. A real keeper.

Tidbits and Quotes
- I love the painfully awkward pause at the doorway between Henry Kissinger and Burns and Smithers, where there’s nothing really left to say at their outro. It ends when Burns just closes the door on him and the story continues.
- Great bit at the unemployment office with Barney, admitting he hasn’t held a job in six years. Kent Brockman asks what kind of training he has, to which Barney shamefully replies, “Five years of modern dance, six years of tap.”
- Just to make sure everything’s square with God, Flanders asks Lovejoy what he thinks about legalized gambling. The good Reverend responds, “Once something has been approved by the government, it’s no longer immoral.”
- Oh God, I love the endless Burns laughing sequence. I’m sure it’s like the Sideshow Bob rake scene where some people don’t think it’s funny because it runs so long, but to me, it just gets funnier and funnier, especially when he’s laughing in church, and then later when he ponders at what exactly he was laughing about, then remembers and laughs again, making you think it may start all over again.
- The pitchmen for the casino design are all hilarious. For some reason, I love the timing with the Englishman’s pitch: the grizzled old waitress comes into frame (“Freshen your drink, gov’nor?”) followed immediately by a Burns closeup of him grimly saying, “GET OUT.”
- Some would say the Gunter and Ernst getting brutally mauled by their tiger is not so funny now considering it pretty much happened with Siegfried and Roy, but for a sick fuck like me, it’s even funnier. This show is prophetic, mark my words.
- Great, in-character line from Marge upon finding a quarter on the floor at the casino (“I wonder if they have a lost and found.”)
- I wonder how Bart was able to afford a giant sign with light bulb framing for his casino. Or how he affixed it to the side of his wooden treehouse all by himself. Now that’s dedication.
- Love the Rain Man parody where Raymond and Homer have a simultaneous autistic fit.
- All the Burns scenes are hilarious: his vision of Smithers’ germ ridden face (“Freemasons run the country!”), his spectacular model of the Spruce Goose (“Model?”) and the amazing call-back for when it seems Burns has regained sanity and is reopening the plant (“I said hop in.”)
- Lisa’s Florida costume is fantastic, as is Homer’s impassioned speech to Lisa when it’s finished (“The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it’s time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!”) And of course, classic Ralph line at the pageant (“I’m Idaho!” “Yes, of course you are.”)
- Madman Homer running amok at the casino is hysterical, throwing people’s craps and hanging up their phone calls. He’s so crazed he rips the slot machine Marge is using right out of the wall and can’t even speak clearly (Marge first asks him to slow down, then to think before he says each word.) Homer finally gets it out, “You broke a promise to your child,” accompanied by a great music cue and camera whip-around. It’s a pretty impacting moment.

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One response to “91. $pringfield (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)

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