(originally aired April 27, 1997)
Here we have another Marge episode coupled with an examination of a pretty unexplored secondary character. But forget about all that, the most important thing this show has to offer is the immortal Mr. Sparkle, one of the greatest and most bizarre creations of the entire series. I’ll get to him later though; despite that wacky and amazing sub-plot, the main story is actually quite strong, which surprised me as I didn’t really remember it all that much. It gives a real humanity to Reverend Lovejoy, a man who wishes to help and invigorate his flock but has just lost his religious mojo. We establish early how his stale and droing sermons lull the entire town to sleep, and his advice to the community rather lacking. A flashback sheds some light on the subject: Lovejoy was a spirited go-getter in the mid-seventies, open to the concerns of his new congregation in Springfield, but met his match with worrywart Ned Flanders. After weeks and months of repeated calls regarding exaggeratedly inconsequential matters (“I think I may be coveting my own wife!”), Lovejoy was beaten down, admitting he just stopped caring (“Luckily, by then it was the eighties, and no one noticed.”)
While we find Lovejoy is a man who’s become completely numbed emotionally, Marge has an open and caring heart toward everyone. She volunteers at the church and ends up falling into the role of the “Listen Lady,” assisting the citizens of Springfield with their problems. This role fits perfectly; people are instantly taken by her motherly advice. Meanwhile, Lovejoy has effectively been replaced; there’s a spectacular sequence when he envisioned the saints on his stained glass windows (never seen before or since of course) chewing him out. Also just as great is him all by his lonesome in the basement with his train set. It really did bring a tear to my eye; the show is so good at making us care about these minor characters in no time at all. Basically the show is fantastic up until the third act, where things get strange. Marge’s words of wisdom backfire involving Flanders dealing with some hooligans, which end up with him being chased out of town all night by them on mini-bikes, for some reason. Then Ned hides out in the baboon sanctuary at the zoo, for some reason. And Lovejoy has to fight them off to save him, for some reason. The resolution was just kind of silly and nonsensical, and the big dramatic brawl ending is just a big harbinger for things to come. I did like his emphatic sermon at the end though (“A pair of the great apes rose up at me but bam, bam! I sent them flying like two hairy footballs!”)
Okay, enough of that. Miiiisstaah Sparkllllee! On a trip to the dump, Homer is extremely bewildered at the discovery of a Japanese box with his face on it. He seeks out answers, with a return appearance of Akira (“Hi, hi, hi, bye,”) and a visit to the library, where he asks for a Japanese phone book, then asks to use the phone (“Is it a local call?” “……yes.”) The Mr. Sparkle company sends him a video tape that should clear things up… kind of. The commercial is astounding, one of the best single segments the series has ever done. After watching a fair share of Japanese media after seeing this, it basically is pretty spot on. It’s just such a spectacular piece, where just when you think it can’t get weirder, it does. And you gotta love the subtitles (“I am disrespectful to dirt! Can you see I am serious?”) Homer is initially as baffled as we are afterwards, but it’s then revealed the corporate logo is the result of the merging of two companies and their logos. A madly grinning fish and a lightbulb then become… Homer’s head. It’s an absolutely brilliant conclusion (“There’s your answer, fish-bulb!”) A solid and interesting A-story, and one of the greatest side stories of all time? Awesome-ah power!
Tidbits and Quotes
– Great read on Homer’s loud “Dammit!” whilst nodding off and hitting his head on the pew. Sacrilicous. Before long, everyone is asleep, and the Reverend must use his noise buttons to awaken his flock (he chooses “Bird.”)
– I like Homer, Bart and Lisa’s joy of coming back from church, touting it the best part of the week (“It’s the longest possible time before more church!”)
– While Marge is doing chores at church, like putting the collection plates in the dishwasher, Lovejoy uses his time wisely (“Did you know, thanks to you, that I discovered a form of shame that’s gone unused for 700 years?”)
– Marge is an instant hit on her advice, first with Moe (“I’ve lost the will to live.” “That’s ridiculous Moe. You’ve got lots to live for.” “Really? That’s not what Reverend Lovejoy’s been telling me. Wow, you’re good, thanks.”)
– Great meta moment when in response to Homer’s paranoia about the Mr. Sparkle box, Marge comments that it’s absurd that he thinks that they’re being watched. Cut to a aerial shot of the dinner table as the family eats a tad nervously for a few seconds. Underplayed and not drawn out, excellent.
– Love Akira’s explanation of Mr. Sparkle (“He identifies himself as a magnet for foodstuffs. He boasts that he will banish dirt to the land of wind and ghosts. You have very lucky dishes, Mr. Simpson. This soap is from the sacred forests of Hokkaido, renowned for its countless soap factories.”)
– I’m sure some people don’t care for the extended bit of Homer dialing the phone, thinking it’s just filler, but I love just how long it goes, and how he has to look back at the book for each number he dials. He can’t remember more than one?
– Lovejoy must confront his visions of the saints, accusing him of being uncaring and not doing enough for his congregation (“I thought saints were supposed to be friendly.” “You’re just lucky God isn’t here!”)
– As I said, I love the bit with Lovejoy and his trains. I also like that Helen calls Marge in genuine concern of her husband, it feels so real, it’s great (“Attention, HO-scale passengers. The dining car is closed. Root beer is still available, but the cost is now six-fifty. If the passengers will look to their right, you will see a sad man. That is all.”)
– Where does one get gas at the cheap price of $1.49 and eight-tenths? Donny’s Discount Gas! And holy shit, you’re damn right that’s a discount from today’s standards.
– The only things I like about the ending is the zookeeper explaining why he can’t help Ned (“If they don’t kill the intruder, it’s really bad for their society.”) and Lovejoy’s thank-you to Marge (“She taught me that there’s more to being a minister than not caring about people.”)
– One minor bit, I kind of wish that when the family went to Japan, they’d have made a Mr. Sparkle reference. Considering those tourists at the zoo immediately identified Homer, it would seem to make sense. But then, of course, if you’re watching that episode and have never seen this one, it makes no sense, so I get why they wouldn’t have done it.