(originally aired March 22, 1998)
Let’s talk about Ralph, shall we? Some of the series’ most classic and memorable quotes have come from this lovable scamp, and he’s one of the more famous secondary characters. He’s a pretty useful utility, but it appears that that’s pretty much all he’s become. Flash back to “I Love Lisa,” where Ralph, while still not quite developed yet, as a pretty real character, a lonely, dimwitted character with no sense of social skills or tact. He’s oblivious, a simple-minded child who says what’s on his mind, be it how he just ate a crayon or bent his Wookie. In later seasons he became a prop for the writers: throw him in a scene and have him spout a non-sequitur, instant laugh, money in the bank. This episode almost seems like the bridge between these two Ralphs; the writers attempt to center a story around this character as they did before, but partway through the task seemed too daunting, so they leaned up against random Ralph lines and a beyond ridiculous final act. It starts with potential, but ended up collapsing due to lack of support.
The beginning set piece at the Knowledgeum is great, a wonderful parody of sensationalist interactive children’s museums. I remember going to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City many times as a kid, and while it was real cool, wishing it was as awesome as the Simpsons version. Wouldn’t you love to go down a double helix slide? Skateboard on the surface of Mars? Shoot virtual sperm on a giant turret gun? Anyway, the Simpson family spends the day there, and Marge runs across Chief Wiggum and Ralph, who is disheartened that the boy is all by his lonesome. Ralph has always ridden the line between slow child and mentally retarded, and this show really seems to be pushing him toward the latter. When he randomly begins running in circles barking like a dog, I was as worried as Marge, but of the fate of this character. Feeling sorry for the boy, Marge ends up pairing Ralph up with Bart, much to his chagrin. There’s a bit of potential with this story, harkening back to arranged playdates from childhood with that kid no one wanted to hang out with, but there’s really not much to that angle of the story before they veer off into other territory.
The third act predicates on acquiring Chief Wiggum’s master key, which can open any lock in Springfield. After goofing around at the toy store and the bakery after dark, Bart wishes to impress the local bullies by going into the spooky abandoned penitentiary. But he ultimately decides to stay back when he sees how scared Ralph is, feeling he can’t betray him. So I guess he learned a lesson, huh? From that point on it’s just a series of things that either make no sense or don’t work. Why would the bullies throw away the key instead of using it for themselves? Then there’s this “moment” where Ralph “conquers” his fears by going in after the key, but it’s more like he just wandered in there, like the numbskull he now is. Then of course the finale with Quimby in the electric chair. For some reason the master key is also used to activate the chair, which for some reason is still active. Then later when Quimby does his press conference, he, for some reason, wishes to test the chair, and intends to mime his own convulsions for realism. …okay. And the writers knew how convoluted and stupid the ending was, so they made references to it in the episode multiple times, from Quimby’s speech to Burns commenting how he’s left the prison’s electric on for thirty years, but commenting on something being bad doesn’t excuse it. In some cases, yes, but not when it’s the entire last five minutes of the episode. There are a few choice laughs in the episode, but for me, this one will be known as the show that killed Ralph. Poor little guy.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I like the opening bit with everyone in Krabappel’s class frantically trying to get the answer first on their calculators. Though I’m surprised the school could afford them.
– Homer is initially suspect of the Knowledgeum (“Good things don’t end with ‘eum.’ They end with ‘mania.’ Or ‘teria!'”)
– Another great Troy McClure appearance welcoming guests to the museum while they enter on a moving walkway. The family ends up not hearing the end of his spiel as they move away from the giant screen just as he’s mentioning that cars may be subjected to repeated break-ins (“What’d he say? What about my car?”)
– Very very crass line about Bart wishing to toss the virtual salad.
– “Ovulate, damn you! Ovulate!” is an exclamation I wish to use on my future wife. I may want to rethink that though. Krusty is up next on the sex simulator, and while I don’t buy him being at a kid’s museum, I love his enthusiasm (“Hey, baby, remember me?”) Though maybe it was a birthday party and he has some down time. That works. Swish.
– Bart and Marge have an argument about whether Bart will hang out with Ralph, while he’s standing wide-eyed at the door. I love the moment where Bart says, “Someone will be right with you,” then closes the door to continue the conversation with his mother.
– At Ralph’s house, Bart inquires where his father keeps all the cool stuff from his job (“He keeps that stuff in his closet. But he says I’m not allowed in there.” “Did he say I’m not allowed in there?” “Yes.” “…well, I’m goin’ in anyway!”)
– I think it’s a bit much that Wiggum announces himself as “Chief Wiggum” coming home to his wife and son. He finds Ralphie and Bart have broken into his secret stash (“What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”)
– Dumb time filler with Homer and Marge doing answering machine messages. I have no further comment.
– Nice name on the toy store (J.R.R. Toykins) and Bart and Ralph’s antics, building a giant Lego brick out of Legos, and practicing archery with Malibu Stacy dolls. Later at the bakery, they eat a whole wedding cake and an entire pan of funeral fudge.
– Another crass joke in the name Morningwood Penitentiary. I always thought it was spelled like ‘Mourning’ to have another logical meaning, but no, it’s just an erection joke, plain and simple.
– I don’t know if the evil leprechaun in Ralph’s mind is a bad joke… but it’s not a good one either. It makes him seem less innocent and childlike and more like a psychotic crazy person. Good job, writers.