31. Brush With Greatness

(originally aired April 11, 1991)
Amidst its wacky nature and constant irreverence, the show has always had some negative undercurrents below its surface, one of the biggest being the quiet tragedy of Marge Simpson. From what we’ve seen in flashbacks to modern day, she’s sharp, she’s talented, she has a lot of potential, but she’s become perfectly comfortable in her role as housewife to an ape-like buffoon. In episodes where opportunity presents itself to do something more with her life, she remains ever hesitant (in her words, “I’ve dug myself into a happy little rut here and I’m not about to hoist myself out of it.”) This is the first episode dealing with Marge as more than just Homer’s ever-supportive wife, but on her feelings about the world and her own abilities.

We start off somewhat unrelated though, with a not-so-subtle plea from Krusty the Klown to visit the water park Mt. Splashmore. It works for Bart and Lisa, and the family end up going, but the visit has a disastrous end when Homer ends up lodged in a slide tube and ends up having to be hoisted out like a beached whale. This public embarrassment is just large enough to permeate Homer’s sense of shame, and he vows to lose weight. Digging in the attic for old exercise equipment, he comes across Marge’s old paintings of Ringo Starr, which puts our other plot in motion of rekindling Marge’s artistic tendencies. She enrolls in a painting class taught by Professor Lombardo (another wonderful voice by Jon Lovitz), an eccentric who must pepper any potentially negative comment with a compliment (hearing about Marge’s former art teacher’s scorns, he retorts, “The man was a fool! But still one must admire the force of his conviction.”)

After winning first prize at a local art show, Marge is then saddled with a near impossible task: a newly commissioned piece to present Mr. Burns in a positive light. Her self-remarked ability to see the inner beauty in everyone is tested to its limits by the insolent old curmudgeon, until it nearly breaks her spirits. But through urgings from her husband, and a much-belated response from Ringo Starr himself, she manages to pull through, presenting a bold painting of Mr. Burns in the old, wrinkly buff. The final scene at the art show may be one of my favorites in the entire series, as it shows the series’ ability to utilize shock value for a higher purpose: Marge’s explanation of her piece, of how despite Burns’ evil mind, he is of as frail a body as the rest of us, is quite profound and conceptual, and true to her character. Her version of retribution ends up being a smash hit; even Burns is impressed (with the great line, “I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this”), even if she did mock his genitalia. Marge may be forever a housewife, but her life does have its small victories.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening Krusty show is a great mockery of cross-promotion: Krusty films his show at Mt. Splashmore so kids will want to go, nailed even further with his singalong: “I want to go to Mt. Splashmore, Take me, take me, take me, take me now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Mt. Splashmore, take me there right now!”
– Homer is shown much more grotesquely obese than normal, which makes sense to set up the diet plot later, but it’s quite disturbing seeing him walk around topless, especially with the miscolored farmer’s tan.
– Love the homage to M.C. Escher with the never-ending line. I also love how brazen Homer is upon reaching the line: where Bart and Lisa came up with a cunning plan using the “crying child” angle, Homer merely exclaims, “The hell with this!” and pushes his way through.
– Homer getting stuck in the tube is pretty easy humor, but it’s funny all the way through, starting with the hilarious drawing of him sliding down along with Castellaneta’s great acting of Homer whooping it up. We get a look at the Splashmore control room, which apparently can detect if there’s a blockage in any of their tubes somehow. Believing the large block cannot possibly be human, they suggest to send a few kids down to shake it loose. The shot from the kids’ POV of sliding down the tube, and eventually to a screaming Homer is spectacular. Lastly, we see the tube segment being airlifted, with a fantastic drawing of a weary Homer, accompanied by massive booing. A low point for Homer, but a high point for me as a viewer, laughing my ass off.
– The criticism of Marge by her thick-headed art teacher is so wonderfully scarring: “Someone might have used this canvas to create a masterpiece. Instead, you’ve soiled it forever.” He then goes on to praise a painting of a sad clown. Philistine.
– The small montage of Homer exercising while Marge paints to Rocky-esque music is great; the drawing of a grinning Homer managing to life the now-weightless bar is so great.
– I love the other two runner-ups in the art contest: dogs playing pool, and a sad unicorn overlooking polluting smokestacks thinking “Why?” The judge gives Marge the ribbon, with an affirmative, “Yeah,” as if it were no contest.
– There’s a lot of great Burns lines here; my favorite is when he goes into one of his classic monologues: “Once again the wheel has turned, and Dame Fortune has hugged Montgomery Burns to her sweet, perfumed bosom.”
– Despite Burns’ bastard-like behavior to follow, one can’t help to feel some sympathy for the way he implores Marge’s help: “This commission and all of its glory can be yours, but first you must look me in the eye and answer one simple question: can you make me beautiful?”
– This show continues to become more multi-layered in time; showing Ringo meticulously answer every piece of fan mail he’s got is even more funny thanks to his famous announcement a few years back that he will no longer be signing autographs. Peace and love, peace and love!

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5 responses to “31. Brush With Greatness

  1. I’m not gonna lie, much as it makes me laugh, the thought of being stuck in a waterslide tube scares the hell out of me whenever I watch this episode

  2. Just re-watched this episode and it was obvious they had not yet established all the characters fully, because in one scene Carl speaks and Lennys voice comes out. It was……….chilling.

    Also:
    “Boy these donuts are really piling up.”
    “Homer Simpsons is on a diet.”
    *Gasp* “I just bought a boat!!”

    “Thanks for not making fun of my genetalia.”
    “I thought i did!”

  3. Another great joke showing Burns’ weakness. Burns attempts to use the Simpsons’ door knocker, but he’s barely able to lift it and it makes the slightest tap. After waiting a moment, he angrily says, “Well? Don’t people answer the door these days?!”

  4. With the recent “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon, it’s a great chance to see all these classics pile up back-to-back and be amazed again at what a great show it really was. And, also… “Forgive the lateness of my reply!”

  5. This one is a pretty good Marge episode. She is my least favorite Simpson, but she does have some great moments here. As usual, Jon Lovitz is also fantastic. I love how he goes on to praise her work, making it sound like it is exceptional and that he has exquisite taste, only to then praise the paint job on the railing.

    The Mt Splashmore bit is both funny and horrifying at the same time. No, it’s not horrifying because of Homer getting stuck, it’s horrifying because I freaking hated that level in Bart’s Nightmare on the SNES. Good god did I hate running into Homer’s ass. Never could beat that god damn #)&#)Y#(&#W(*#)(#U(*#*)#(U#()I@*#*U*&*(*#()(@#)*#()*) leve!!!!!

    Whoa, okay… calm down.. .

    I’m calm now. The Rocky music bit was pretty awesome too.

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