(originally November 21, 1991)
A great Simpsons episode isn’t content with having just an A-story, or even a B-story, it’s also peppered with so many other elements, be them blink-and-miss-it signs or quick parodies, or even lengthy sequences unrelated to the plot. The show would later notoriously have very disjointed first acts that have little to do with the main story, sometimes to a ridiculous level, but here we see that trend was being utilized here as well. The difference is the material: later “set-ups” would be so silly and over-the-top, but here we get a very funny opening bit featuring Lisa’s slumber party, which quickly turns into a nightmare for Bart. It’s filled with so many great small moments, like the age-old girly game they play with the candle wax and Bart’s attempts to un-jinx himself. And it naturally flows into our main story, with Homer getting fed up with the hijinks that he leaves six young children in the house alone to go to a seedy bar.
Homer and Moe’s relationship is wallowed in co-dependence: Homer needs Moe to get him drunk, and Moe is happy to accept his business. For this system to continue, Moe needs customers who are sullen, depressed losers, and he’s picked Homer as his favorite amongst them all. Though through all this, and his unwavering thievery of Homer’s alcoholic invention, we still feel sympathy for Moe; beneath his angry, bitter exterior is a man who craves acceptance, and will do just about anything for it, even sell out his best friend without even a second thought. Homer first reacts to this betrayal with simple anger, but slowly puts him into a bizarre psychotic stupor, in a wonderful sequence where he hears and sees Moe wherever he goes. All he can think about is Moe’s success off of his back.
Meanwhile, Moe’s has turned into a happening joint, a regular Studio 54 type establishment, but also blended with a Cheers element where Moe falls into a love-hate relationship with a sassy waitress. Now, here’s what’s great about this parody. I didn’t grow up with Cheers, nor have I even seen an episode, but the parody still works as it is engrained in the story, and works as a stand-alone. The hooting and hollering of the crowd subbing in for a studio audience applause and she and Moe’s sitcom-esque banter in bed (eeesh…) still works even without knowing the reference. Also what works is Aerosmith, the show’s first musical guest stars, who work in the story, and are entertaining in their own right. This episode is also filled with some gorgeous animation, from the effects of the Flaming Moe drinks setting aflame to the enormous bevy of crowd shots to some of the individual character movements, particularly Steven Tyler’s “are you ready to rock?!” and of course Homer’s renowned fairy dance. So many wonderful elements in this show, it’s an absolute classic.
Tidbits and Quotes
– “Eye on Springfield” is a great segment, sending up those horrible fluff “news” shows. Particularly great is the brief preview clip of Drederick Tatum’s thoughts of growing up Springfield (“That town is a dump. If you ever see me back there, you’ll know I really [bleep]ed up bad.”) I’m surprised they could get away with using the bleep like that.
– I think we have our first “in-the-floorboards” joke where we see the middle layer between the two floors of the house, with a lead pipe and asbestos.
– Moe has a lot of great lines right out of the box (“Increased job satisfaction and family togetherness are poison for a purveyor of mind-numbing intoxicants like myself.”) I especially love his complete perplexed reaction to reading his dusty old cocktail chart. “Gin.. and tonic?”
– The origin of the Flaming Homer is absolutely perfect, from the impetus of suffering through another of Patty and Selma’s slide shows (“As I stared up at that hairy yellow drumstick, Ia knew I needed a drink.”) to his intense analysis of the drink (“I don’t know the scientific explanation, but fire made it good.”)
– Lots of great bits in the second act: Homer’s initial obliviousness on Moe’s new-found success, Moe’s inability to understand that Tipsy McStagger is not actually a real person, Mrs. Krabappel demanding Bart bring the liquor he brought to class to the teacher’s lounge, and Lisa, of all people, asking for a Virgin Moe for dinner, which angers Homer. Oh, and Pimp Krusty. Again, what other children’s show host appears at local bars in lavish outfits with two girls in tow?
– The crank phone calls are a bit tired at this point, so the show shakes things up by having Bart’s latest name “Hugh Jass” be one of the many crowding up Moe’s. Hugh turns out to be a good sport about it, and allows Bart to get off the hook.
– The second act break may be one of my favorites, it’s such a fantastic sequence, with Castellaneta and Azaria riffing off each other and the amazing animation and direction by Rich Moore.
– A great brief appearance by Lionel Hutz, who cites a case for Homer on how he can’t copyright a drink, and is very pleased by the fact that he actually did research (“How about that! I looked something up! These books behind me don’t just make the office look good, they’re filled with useful legal tidbits just like that!”)
– The depletion of Homer’s sanity ends with him taking on a half-assed Phantom of the Opera persona, appearing in the rafters of Moe’s to expose the secret ingredient. Castellaneta gives a great, maddening tint to Homer here, and again, it looks great, with dramatic shadows and the flaming drinks going off. And a great capper, and mild screw-you to their gracious guest stars by having him fall down and crush Aerosmith.
– I also like the very end too, with the secret out and imitation chains opening up all down the block, sort of like all the different Famous Original Ray’s Pizzas in New York.