198. The Trouble with Trillions

(originally aired April 5, 1998)
A big problem continues to present itself this season. At this point, the writers still know funny; although not as hilarious as ones in the past, season 9 still has a very high quotient of laughs. What seems to be sorely lacking is a cohesive story that gels and makes sense all the way through. I’m not exactly tearing through new ground saying this, and I’ve probably mentioned it in past reviews. But this episode is the shining example of this: great individual set pieces amidst an absolute mess of a story. We start out strongly: Flanders wakes up midnight of the new year to hurry and get his taxes done, so perfectly in character. Then, of course, flash to April 15th, where the post office is mobbed with people desperately trying to get their returns sent in. Here we hear from some of our supporting players, from Captain McAllister sweetening his file with buried treasure to Otto, believing the giant line was for Metallica tickets. All excellent. Then Homer realizes he never did his taxes and frantically scribbles on a bunch of pages to get it in on time. Not only do I not buy Marge would stand idly by while the large mound of taxes on the ‘To Do’ pile right on the TV room table never got done, but really, wouldn’t she just do the taxes herself? Instead, Homer’s poorly packaged tax return ends up smack dab in the ‘Severe Audit’ bin.

The IRS tracks down Homer, and to make up for his faux-pas, agrees to be a government snitch, wearing a wire to catch suspects incriminate themselves on tape. His biggest assignment is to uncover a stolen trillion-dollar bill from Mr. Burns, who pocketed it himself rather than hand it over to good-for-nothing foreigners after World War II. At this point halfway through the episode everything pretty much goes to hell. First, for some reason, Homer has qualms about betraying his boss, and I’m not quite sure why. Inside the mansion, Burns mistakes Homer as a columnist for a magazine, and gives him a tour of his estate, showing him his most prized possessions. The last stop is the Hall of Patriots, a wing featuring animatronic displays of Burns’ ancestors, because it makes total sense for an old timey fellow like Burns to have something like this. Then he openly shows the bill to Homer, and is promptly arrested. Then Burns goes on a tirade against government oppression, which I guess inspires Homer enough to knock the two agents out, grab Burns and take off. Then, so we have a joke to end the act on, he places one agent’s hand on the other’s ass, giggles and leaves. Well done, writers.

I just really don’t understand what’s with Burns in this episode. If anything, he should be all for the government, standing by a capitalist system that’s responsible to keeping him rich and on a higher platform than the little people. He was against the gross foreign aid after the war, but all the other points don’t really stick. Also, he seems so out of sorts here, not recognizing Cuba, or realizing he’s flying the plane, he’s like wacky cartoon Burns, not the ruthless no-nonsense miser we know and love. Homer sticks around with Burns for some reason, and ultimately is responsible for losing the trillion dollar bill to Fidel Castro, leaving them and Smithers stranded on a raft out at sea. Between that we have a dead space showing a joke-free Cuba, and a look back state side as federal agents interrogate the rest of the Simpsons, where Marge for some reason believes the trillion dollars is theirs and Lisa says fuck college, let’s buy dune buggies. This episode had a strong start, then stumbled and crashed and burned in a calamity of bizarre characterization, stuff that wildly made no sense, and an ending that wishes it was triumphant and hilarious, but is actually just irritating. A pretty disastrous outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great New Year’s celebration… until the ball gets stuck (“Eight! Eight! Eight!”) Chief Wiggum shoots at it to dislodge it, ending up sending it crashing down, setting the roof of the town hall aflame, but no one seems to care. Everyone joyously sings Auld Lang Syne, including an incredibly inebriated Krusty.
– Love Ned doing his taxes; he considers putting cash register ink as a business expense, but figures he can’t because he loves the smell of it. Todd asks his father what taxes pay for, and Ned is all too happy to answer (“Policemen, trees, sunshine! And lets not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em!”) He stuffs his folder full of mints and jets it off to the post office. He passes Hibbert on the way out, who is too pleased to announce he’s mailing death certificates from holiday-related fatalities.
– On April 15th, the post office is mobbed. Chief Wiggum mollifies the crowd (“The harder you push, the faster we will all get outta here!”) The crowd shoves harder and Wiggum appears content with his work.
– Kent Brockman appears smug in announces that some people had their accountants do their taxes months ago. Cut to a frenzied man with papers in hand asking if anyone has a calculator. Brockman looks worried (“Myron?”)
– Really bizarre moment where Marge hangs the ship painting back on the wall (revealed in this episode that she painted it) and muses about how she used to have a lot of talent. Bart and Lisa look at each other dumb-founded. Is this like a throwaway joke? It feels so devastating. It’s cut in syndication, and when I saw it on the DVD, I was like…. what?
– Homer makes a mad dash to the post office, running through a red light causing two cars to crash. But the animation is so that it looks like one car literally flattens in smashing into the other, presumably killing every person inside.
– Great bar talk where Moe posits a scenario: you pull a thorn out of the Pope’s butt and he grants you one wish, what is it? Lenny wonders what it would be like to wear something that’s ironed. Moe is impressed (“I was gonna say a night with Joey Heatherton, but an ironed shirt… damn, that’s tempting.”)
– I always liked Charlie; never reaching the high levels of screen time as Lenny or Carl, he’s Homer’s soft-spoken workmate who we don’t know much about. Here, he reveals a bit more of his secret life to Homer (“My militia has a secret plan to beat up all sorts of government officials! That’ll teach them to drag their feet on high definition TV!”) Then government agents come to take him away. We’ve never seen Charlie again. Actually, we probably had, but it’s more mysterious if I say we haven’t.
Love Milhouse in the photo booth (“My… my shirt fell off.”) The secret film is also pretty good, speaking of Truman’s drunken boast, the bill itself featuring Truman doing the “OK” sign and a thumbs up, trusting America’s wealthiest and therefore must trustworthy man, and “This film will self-destruct if not properly stored.”
– I kind of like how awkwardly Homer is allowed into the mansion. With the hounds button broken, Burns invites him in (“Perhaps there’s something I can scald you with.”) He puts water on the stove, saying it’ll be a few minutes. He ends up splashing Homer prematurely, then goes off to get him a towel. This whole thing’s a little out of character for Burns, but I like how silly it is.
– Nice that Burns is under arrest for “grand, grand, grand, grand larceny.”
– Smithers seems displeased by the whole affair; I especially love when Homer gripes about leaving the country and his family behind, Smithers coldly comments, “That can be shipped.”
– The scene with the agents at the Simpson home really irritates me: why would Marge assume the money is theirs? And the horrible Lisa line. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s like these characters aren’t themselves, they just needed a scene to show what they were doing and spout a few jokes. They’re accessories to the stupid story, not actual people.
– More dumb Homer jokes: putting the bill inside the vending machine, immediately gambling over international waters… yawn…
– I do like some of the Castro stuff (“But presidente, America tried to kill you!” “Ah, they’re not so bad. They even named a street after me in San Francisco. …it’s full of what?!”) His “Aye carumba!” is great, and I do like the timing of the end, even though I’m not a fan of the ending (“Now, give it back.” “Give what back?”) Burns groans, then cut to the three scuffed up on a raft.

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6 responses to “198. The Trouble with Trillions

  1. While the govt making homer do their dirty work is retarded, the first half of the episode is great overall. I thought the idea that homer had made off with the money made for genuine reaction from the family, not shoe horned ones (I supopose it’s a bit out there for them to assume that even if homer had stolen the money that they’d get to keep it but…) Poor Simpson star progeny Lisa not giving any fucks if they had a trillion dollars actually REinforces a trait we’ve seen in her before: She wants more than anything to be approved of. Traditionally she goes out of her way to do this educationally. She’s put on a persona to get friends when toadying fails her during the Summer of 4’12. And most specifically, the closest thing to a status symbol the Simpsons ever possessed, the Pool, made Lisa a queen for a while. It’s certainly a less ludicrous response than turning down 100 mil during the recycling episode.

    We’ve seen her childish side before, this is just another example of it. And it’s nice to see her deliver a joke for once instead of being a moralizing machine.

    • I just found Lisa, an young girl who episodes earlier was pleading with Springfield to appreciate their brains, saying, “Who cares about college?” to be kind of disconcerting. I’m for keeping Lisa acting like a kid, but still within her character.

      • To me it just showed that there is a dollar amount that would get even Lisa to give up education and just have fun, at least on impulse. If the family had kept the money and Lisa was still lazing about years later, then you’d have a good argument about her being out of character.

        I will admit that scene in the home seemed pretty pointless. It wouldn’t surprise me if the episode was short and that was the best they could come up with.

        On another note, I liked Homer’s logic while lying on the tax forms (“If I don’t hear you, it’s not illegal!”), and again when he runs the red light (“If I don’t see it, it’s not illegal!”).

        Capitalism is supported by the government (in theory, anyway), but it isn’t a government system. Burns has been shown to be a Republican, most likely a “country club” or “institutional” Republican, meaning he wants government to leave him alone while not really caring about anyone else. Burns opposing foreign aid or the government taking his taxes to help the lower class (which is what he rants about while being taken away) makes perfect sense.

  2. Wow, I had forgotten that this episode came out right after Simpson Tide. I never liked this one.

  3. I think my favorite ever Chief Wiggum moment came from this episode.
    Police Dispatcher: “Be on the lookout for a maroon 1932 Stutz Bearcat.”

    Chief Wiggum (with feet up on dashboard): That really was more of a burgundy…

  4. My favourite line in this episode is Homer’s “I paid my taxes over a year ago”. I might or might not repeat that every year around tax season. But yeah, past the beginning (love their NYE celebrations) the episode is pretty crap.

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