Monthly Archives: March 2012

196. This Little Wiggy

(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.

195. Lisa the Simpson

(originally aired March 8, 1998)
You can certainly understand how Lisa would be curious of how a bright, book-smart girl like her sprung from the loins of her dim-witted dullard father. Does she have latent Simpsons qualities that will emerge later in life? In this episode, we learn about the supposed Simpson gene, and Lisa’s attempts to save and preserve her intellect from it. After a few days where nothing seems to go right, Lisa fears she is beginning to lose her smarts. Grampa overhears and confirms this, referring her granddaughter to the “Simpson gene.” Apparently both Homer and Bart were pretty sharp and got good grades as kids, but over the years grew lazy and boorish into the dummies they are today. It’s an interesting story idea, and presented in an intriguing way; Grampa isn’t exactly the most reliable source of information, so you, as well as Lisa, are questioning the validity of it, and soon suspect it may actually be real.

As sharp as she is, Lisa needs to find more about DNA, and what better place than a filmstrip by Troy McClure? It’s one of his last appearances, and I think one of his best (“You take a dash of Dad, a pinch of Mom, let it simmer for nine months, and mmm, that’s good Billy!”) There’s a great atmosphere to this show, intermittently showing Lisa writing in her diary about her mission, and eventually submission to a life of limited intelligence. The best bit is where she stands atop the stairs at night, seeing the flickering of the TV playing something loud and bargain basement with Bart and Homer cheering. She descends the stairs as if stooping to their level, and father and son, both looking kind of creepy in a dumbening blue light, invite Lisa to join them. Homer pats the seat next to him, which has a subtle creepy echo. It establishes a great tone, something this season hasn’t had much of.

Homer eventually catches wind on what Grampa told Lisa and decides to set things right. One morning she gathers up every extended family member he could track down to prove that they’re not all morons. Turns out they actually are. But, as it seems, the Simpson women are actually great successes, and as one reveals, the defective gene is only on the Y-chromosome, so Lisa is in the clear. It’s a brilliant conclusion, that’s both sincere and kind of backhanded; Lisa’s “I’ve never been happier to be your daughter!” is sweet, but if she happened to be a boy, she would hate her father’s guts. I also love all the designs of the Simpson men, and Dan Castellaneta’s many different variations of Homer’s voice he uses for them all. What a talented guy, able to take one voice and vary it up into dozens. This is a pretty classic show, with a lot of heart and sincerity, well directed, and with a story that keeps you engaged. There’s also plenty of humor, much of it from the wonderful B-story which I didn’t even touch on in the main part of this review. It’s a damned good episode. S’all I gotta say.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Lisa’s mental break starts when she’s the only one who cannot solve a seemingly simple brain teaser on the back of a pre-packed lunch: Professor Provolone’s Picto-Puzzle. It seems completely obvious to me now since I’ve seen the episode, I don’t remember if I got it from just seeing it once. But you totally get Lisa’s feeling, we’ve all had times that we’ve been unable to figure something out, then when we do, or when someone tells us the answer, we feel like total morons. Even Ralph gets it (“I don’t need a hint, Ralph!” “But you’re suffering!”)
– Miss Hoover’s class presents their agriculture projects: Janey makes good use of pipe cleaners, and Ralph’s got a big ol’ cow heart in a bleeding paper bag (“Don’t open it, Ralph. I’ll just give you a C minus.”) Lisa, meanwhile, had spaced it, and comes up with a quick substitute: a little eraser pig with push pins and a springy tail, an object right out of an old Life in Hell comic. I love after Hoover’s “This is terrible at best. I’m surprised at you, Lisa!” Lisa looks down at her shoddy handiwork, contemplates for a moment, and bluntly says, “Me too.”
– Gotta mention the B-story: Apu is shocked to find the elderly Jasper locked down in his freezer, hoping to live to see the future. Inspired by gawkers offering him money to see the freezer geezer, Apu reworks his store into the Freak-E-Mart, a museum of supposed oddities. Jasper, or Frostilicus as Grampa calls him, has become a pretty immortal show staple because of this; I remember going to the reformatted 7-Elevens during the movie promotion and almost dying when I saw a frozen Jasper decal over one of the freezer doors. There’s so many classic bits in this subplot: Homer’s fascination over nudie pens, Jasper insisting they change his pants as fashion dictates and to thaw him out when robot wives are cheap and effective, the offensive hat, do you dare to read: “Show Me Your Ti-” (“It says ‘Show Me Your Tie,” real cute, let’s go!”) and of course, when Jasper is thawed out, “Moon Pies… what a time to be alive.”) Saddened by their lost business venture, but not discouraged, Apu and Sanjay reopen as the Nude-E-Mart, standing outside as doormen in the buff. Sanjay is standing in front of a bike rack, which pretty much exposes him as either having no genitals, or maybe he’s got them tucked back somewhere.
– I always thought it was a nice moment for Marge to be cutting Grampa’s hair; it brings him into the house in a believable way, that he’d have a stupid tiff with his regular barber. Also great is that he’s got the tablecloth wrapped around him, and when he puts it back on the table and shakes it, all the little hairs start floating in the air.
– Bringing more question to Grampa’s believability, as if you needed more, was first he starts showing off his son’s work (“Your dad used to be smart as a monkey! But then his mind started getting lazy and now he’s dumb as a chimp!”) Then when he moves onto Bart… (“Back when he was your age, he was smart as a chimp!”)
– The McClure film is great, as I said; the bit where he takes off his helmet and the other people working by him bolt and peer though the door, the rickety condition of the movie, and how the production abruptly ends when Billy asks what DNA stands for and McClure looks dumbstruck.
– Lisa’s plight could not be more tragic in that she is stuck watching “When Buildings Collapse” on FOX (“Man has always loved his buildings. But what happens when the buildings say ‘no more!'”) It’s a spectacular sequence, full of great ad-libs by Cartwright and Castellaneta (best is when Homer mutters, “I didn’t think it was gonna fall down, but then…”) Followed immediately by “When Surgery Goes Wrong!”
– A horrifying vision of things to come in Lisa’s vision of her dumb future: a big ol’ housemam with an inexplicable Southern accent, ridden to a hammock staring at the boob tube with Ralph as her Wiener Shack-workin’ husband. One of her many kids using the “pryin’ bar” on her is so unbelievably disturbing and hilarious; I’d be devastated if I were Lisa too.
– Lisa realizes her days are numbered (“Soon, the arts and literature I love will be replaced by talk radio and vulgar mudflaps.”) She indulges in the finer things perhaps one last time, but encounters a few… bumps. The beautiful work of art she admires at the museum is revealed to be a fake; one of the guards reveals he painted that and the real one is in his garage. Later, at the Jazz Hole, Lisa has a brush with a pretentious jazz prick (“Sounds like she’s hitting a baby with a cat.” “You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing.” “Pssh, I can do that at home.”) After the musician’s set, Lisa goes to tell her how inspiring it was, and the musician gives her a few more words for thought, which cause Lisa to sprint off with a new sense of purpose…. much to the artist’s chagrin (“Damn, that felt like a sale.”)
– Lisa gets on TV to pour her heart out by claiming she’s staunchly against a random proposition 305, which turns out to be for discount fares for war widows. Homer seems to agree (“I’m supposed to talk to you about proposition 305.” “Mooching war widows…”) My favorite line in the show is probably from Brockman, having to follow up Lisa’s impassioned speech out of the blue (“Little girl likes her brain. What’s your opinion?”)
– Love all the Simpson men’s pathetic jobs: running an unsuccessful shrimp company, shooting birds at the airport (“Everybody hates birds! Right?”), prison snitch, jug band manager, begging celebrities for money… Also great is the last of the Simpson women’s accomplishments, regional sales coordinator for the third largest distributor of bunk and trundle beds. Marge is most impressed by that last one.
– Homer dispenses the moral of the episode, with Marge chipping in (“Remember, there’s nothing that says you can’t be a Simpson and a success.” “Unless you’re a man.”) But Lisa still has some of her father in her after all: when she finally gets the brain teaser, she lets out an impulsive “Woo-hoo!” Then backs up with a more dignified “I mean, splendid.” It’s a really sweet ending.

194. Dumbbell Indemnity

(originally aired March 1, 1998)
Moe’s Flanderization over the later seasons is a bit different than the other characters; while he did become a more exaggerated version of his angry, misanthropic persona, another side of his personality sprung forth, the one desperate for acceptance from other people. A handful of episodes down the line feature Moe’s attempts to be a decent human being, which seems a bit odd coming from such an angry, hate-filled man. I don’t mind this character turn as much, as we’ve seen glimmers of Moe’s softer side in the past, and how it’s clear what a sad, pathetic gargoyle he really is, so why not throw him a bone of happiness every once and a while. As lone as Moe is still Moe, I’m good. So I’m pretty much fine with characterization in this episode where Moe finds love, it’s just a few other points I have issues with.

Homer takes Moe out for a night on the town to find him a lady type, which he shockingly does in a kind flower girl named Renee. Never mind exactly who is selling flowers on a street corner at night, but we don’t really get to know anything about Renee’s character. At all. For the purposes of the story, she’s really just a prop anyway, but it would have been nice to give her some kind of inkling of a persona that could have assisted the plot in some way. What if she was a lady who got comfortable with the finer things Moe provided, and that’s why he gets desperate for money later on? I get why he’s spending so much, feeling he must compensate for his looks and boorish personality, but it would have had more bearing if it involved Renee in any way. It isn’t long before Moe out of cash to woo his girlfriend and comes up with a scheme to a temporary solution: if Homer can steal his car and wreck it, his insurance company will give him a cool five thousand. The carjacking is a spectacular wreck; the car is destroyed, but Homer is quickly apprehended.

Rather than bail Homer out, Moe decides to book a trip to Hawaii with Renee instead. But his conscious gets the better of him in the end and he admits the whole thing was a scam. Renee is understanding at first, but Moe’s crazy schemes run away from him, and she figures it best to just slink away and never look back. Meanwhile Homer has broken out of jail to tear Moe a new one, and the two have a brawl within the bar which is engulfed with flames. In the end, the two make up, and Moe sets up shop at the Simpsons for the time being. Guess he had his car insured and not his business. I dunno, the third act wanes for me because, like a lot of these episodes, we’re just waiting for the inevitable end: Moe will do the right thing. Except I really don’t know if he would; for a hot dame, I think he’d let Homer rot in jail while he soaked up a tropical paradise. Or maybe instead of something silly like Homer’s ghost, his confession could have been cajoled by a conversation with Renee. You know, something that could have given her character a bit more weight? So, yeah, there are a couple things here that don’t quite work, but the story’s solid enough, and there’s plenty of laughs throughout, so this one ain’t too bad.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer may be a bonehead, but I think wildly bashing the water heater with a club is a bit too much for him. The visual of the house leaking from every orifice is spectacular though, as is Homer’s ode to Moe’s (“To Marge; and all the years I’ve blissfully spent hiding from her in this bar.”)
– Moe’s love life ain’t so good, if you can imagine (“Whatever happened to your mail order bride?” “She got homesick for her old life; diving for tourist pennies in a Micronesian swamp.” “So her career got in the way.”)
– Stu’s Disco! But I thought Disco Stu doesn’t advertise. How do people know about his club? I do like Moe’s awkwardness and complete inability to socialize, as well as the Barcadi salesman, ready to strike with a ‘Drink Rum’ sticker.
– Always loved the loud, off-screen Homer line, “Stop kissing that cat and get in the car!”
– Aiming to please, at the Gilded Truffle, Moe orders the first most expensive meal stuffed with the second most expensive. So, lobster stuffed with tacos. Then we see the remnants of the meal, a lobster shell with a little sombrero on it.
– Moe tries to dictate a sweet card to include with Renee’s flowers, but Barney’s laughter interrupts him (“Renee my treasure… hey, shut up, or I’ll ram a stool down your throat!! …oh, no, no, I don’t want that on the card. Well, let me hear how it sounds. …nah, take it out. Take it out.”) The shop informs Moe his Player’s Club card is maxed out. He pleads with them to do him this favor, he has a real tenuous hold on his girlfriend. They promptly hang up.
– Renee is voiced by Helen Hunt, who does a fine job with the material I suppose. She was also with Hank Azaria at the time of the episode. Which I guess explains why she got the job.
– Moe slyly points out his car to Chief Wiggum for future reference, under the guise of his excellent parking job (“Hey, that is nice! Hey, Lou! Lou, check out that park job in 7A!”)
– Homer as carjacker has some good bits: his panicked looking at the clock at the dinner table, thwarting actual carjacker Snake, and of course his taking in the classic drive-in film “Hail to the Chimp.” Missing the train, he takes it up to a hillside, which faces where the police boat cruise is. Excellent timing and animation as Homer drops out of the car, rolls down the hill and ends up popping right back into the driver’s seat. Then we get an extended sequence of he and the car plummeting further in the depths of the water for some reason. Though I like this exchange from the cops (“That car thief can’t hold his breath forever.” “And if he can, Chief?” “Then God help us all.”)
– I do like at the end how Moe’s insane side gets the better of him, which scares Renee away (“Where you goin’, baby? You going to find the corpses?”)
– Yeah, I don’t really care for the ending. I can see Homer moving Moe’s to his house, but it kind of feels like too much.

193. The Last Temptation of Krust

(originally aired February 22, 1998)
At this point I’ve pretty much given up on exactly what kind of performer Krusty is supposed to be. He’s a clown who hosts a children’s show filled with slapstick and buffoonery, sometimes he hosts an adult talk show, sometimes a musical revue like his Elvis-esque comeback special, and now apparently he’s a standup comedian too. He’s all of them in one; Krusty is the show’s expy for the perpetually disgruntled entertainer, a man who once loved to make people laugh, but has long since abandoned that for the call of the almighty dollar. This show is actually an interesting examination of Krusty, who steps out of his safety zone of his empire to find he’s not relevant in today’s world of comedy, and not very funny anymore. While the world has moved on to different forms of humor, he’s stuck doing TV dinner jokes and blatantly offensive stereotypes. After a slightly rusty first half, the episode really picks up when Krusty sees the light, and of course falls right back into his old trappings by the end.

There’s a comedy festival for charity in town, and Bart is stunned that amongst a roster of nobodies like Jay Leno or Bobcat Goldthwait, his hero Krusty is not listed. After some cajoling, Krusty agrees to perform, but finds the audience is not receptive at all to his incredibly dated act. After a multi-day bender, Krusty concludes he’s not fit for today’s form of observational comedy and decides to quit the business, but after riffing and ridiculing modern day comics at his press conference, he finds maybe he can be current after all. From that point, he adopts a new persona, an embittered social critic who doesn’t sell out for no one no way no how. As with a lot of Krusty shows, the anchor back to the family is Bart and his undying devotion to his idol. He gets the ball rolling with the plot, and is always present by Krusty’s side to soften any critical blows coming his way, usually in blaming the acoustics of the room. The best scene is when a hung over Krusty awakens in Bart’s room, which is plastered with cheap merchandise. We’ve seen the man sign off on promotions and licensed products without even looking at them, and Krusty is shocked to find to what great magnitude he’s sold out his image in favor of improving his work.

An interesting thing with this episode is that it’s about comedians and we see them performing, but their jokes aren’t exactly that funny. We see the sets of some of the famous comics, then later the reformed Krusty at Moe’s, the audience laughs hysterically, but not us watching at home. It’s kind of an odd feeling. A few bits of the sets are good, but the funniest is probably when Krusty bombs, where no one is laughing except us. Speaking of not laughing, all the guest stars are pretty useless; the only one with a real role is Jay Leno, who is presented in the gentlest, most congratulatory kiss-ass way. The episode was pretty dodgy up until Krusty’s bender, then it gets pretty good, and they’ve saved the best bit for last. Krusty finds that he’s destined to sell out when he’s won over by two executives wanting to use his likeness for the potentially dangerous SUV the Canyonero. At the end, we see an extended ad for the vehicle, which is absolutely fantastic. I’ll go on the record now that it’s the best bit of the entire season, a wonderful mockery of exceedingly large, gas guzzling, squirrel-squishin’, deer-smackin’ drivin’ machines. And what a catchy jingle too. Canyonerooooo! Yahh!

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening bit at the shoe store is pretty much dead in the water. I did smirk at the store sock though.
– A representative for the comedy festival is at the mall asking folks if they like to laugh. Marge begins to respond, “Oh, yes! As long as its tasteful. And never at someone, or with, and not…” and he moves on to Homer. He also asks Dr. Hibbert (“Well yes, but only if something tickles me just right!”) then proceeds to laugh excessively.
– We establish Krusty as a lazy hack immediately, doing a kid’s birthday party whilst in a steam box. Sideshow Mel is in tow to hold the phone up to his ear and make balloon animals for him.
– Krusty’s act is so horrifically unfunny, then horrifically racist. It’s hilarious; the sound of the flapping dickey over the stunned silence of the audience is fantastic.
– Sweet bit where Marge and Lisa are watching a Spanish drama on TV and Marge intently looks to her daughter to provide translation after every line.
– During Krusty’s bender, Kent Brockman fills in for him, with a clown wig and nose, but still sitting at a news desk (“Today’s top joke: it seems a local moron threw his clock out the window. We’ll tell you why, right after this!”)
– Love the bit where Krusty’s looking at a poster of himself thinking it’s a mirror, trying to dislodge the tack from his forehead.
– Bart holds his own comedy festival at home to help test drive Krusty’s new material. He is the opening act, doing an impression of his mother, much to Homer and Lisa’s delight, and Marge’s chagrin. Krusty’s new material falls flat, with the family coming up with excuses to leave (or Homer, who just says, “I also have to go.”)
– Krusty adapts a George Carlin persona in the third act, which is all well and good, but it’s not so much parodying Carlin’s style as it is writing his kind of jokes. When they did Rodney Dangerfield jokes with Larry Burns, at least it felt a little tongue in cheek (“I get no regard! No regard at all! No esteem either!”)
– Homer gets a few good lines in at Krusty’s shows (“Impeach Churchill!” “Don’t you hate pants?”)
– The Canyonero theme has got to be in the top 5 of best Simpsons songs. It’s a hilarious song, with visuals to match, the best being the SUV causing a school bus to swerve off the road, crash into a tree and catch fire. The Boy Scouts on board stand in salute to the majestic road warrior (“Top of the line in utility sports! Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!”)

192. Das Bus

(originally aired February 15, 1998)
I remember in school when we started reading “Lord of the Flies,” I was so thrilled. Why? Because I was able to bring up this episode and show it in class. The A-story here is pretty much taken completely from the classic novel, but I’m not sure how effective it is. It’s not so much a parody of “Flies,” as it is just reenacting most of its major beats. It’s an episode that sticks out to me due to its pretty outlandish premise, almost like it’s one long fantasy episode. Also I remember it being rerun in syndication quite often so it’s pretty prominent in my mind. The Springfield kids seem to naturally fall into their mirrored roles (could Milhouse be a better Piggy?), so it really just feels like a Simpson-ized version of the novel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you kind of wish that they’d have done some kind of twist or subversion to the source material; here, there’s no real intrigue into the story since you can pretty much already guess how it will end.

A grapefruit-related incident causes the school bus to careen off a bridge, and when Otto is swept away by a heavy current, the kids are left by their lonesome, ultimately washing up on a deserted island. Bart takes the role of leader in promising his fellow chums a tropical paradise, but reality disrupts those grandiose fantasies when they can’t even scrounge food or make a decent shelter. Bart uncovers a cooler of snacks from the sunken bus, but Lisa instructs that they ration their supply to make it last. But the next morning the food’s all gone, with a bloated Milhouse appearing to be the culprit. Now this is just turning into me doing a big plot summary. I’ll say that the story does kind of drag, with lots of plot-focused dialogue and a few time-killing sequences, like Bart’s underwater scene or the extended chase scene. There are a few genuinely funny bits on the island, but the rest is just kind of playing by the book… literally. Nothing else really elicited more than a smile from me, not that that’s bad, but this show isn’t meant to be cute, it should be hilarious.

We also have the B-story, which really isn’t much of a story at all, where Homer decides to set up a home business on his computer… which he doesn’t have. It’s a really bizarre and stupid sidebar from the main plot, but for some reason I really like it. Homer is completely absent-minded in his intentions, having no sense of what exactly his company is supposed to do or how, just that if he arranges his dining room like an office, somehow that’s enough to generate business. And somehow he manages to get an Internet ad onto Comic Book Guy’s computer, in the best scene of the show where he’s attempting to download Star Trek porn on his incredibly slow connection. The plot ends with a visit from Bill Gates, who decides to buy out Homer’s company, by which he means mess up the place. By all accounts, I should not like this plot. There’s a random celebrity appearance for no real reason, and lots of Homer being an absolute moron, but y’know, I laughed at more stuff in the B-story than the A. Perhaps its ridiculous weirdness made up for the played straight nature of the “Flies” stuff. I wouldn’t say this one’s bad, but there’s not much I can say that I loved in it. It’s alright. Yeah. Alright.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great McClure film at the beginning with him as Noah, pissing off God (“Thou shalt taketh two of every creature!” “Two creatures…” “Two of every creature!”) The Simpsons are watching on TV, entertained (“God is so in your face!” “Yeah, he’s my favorite fictional character.”) The interminably long movie is cut off at the very end by a Kent Brockman news preview (“You’ve seen the movie, now meet a real-life Noah! Only this Noah has been accused of killing two of every animal!”)
– I love all the stuff at the Model UN: Martin’s native dance, Bart bullshitting his way through his reports (for some reason, his pronunciation of “maize” kills me), Nelson as Japan having immunity regarding bullying others, Ralph singing the Canadian anthem, and Skinner calling for order banging his shoe a la Khrushchev (“Do you kids wanna be like the real UN, or do you just wanna squabble and waste time?”) Also great is the logo of the dove decked with military garb and weaponry (“Order At Any Cost”)
– Homer’s butter pencil holder makes me want to do the same. Then I can write some delicious memos. Mmm… memo.
– Love Otto listening to “Songs to Annoy Bus Drivers” (“Man, I don’t know why I bought this stupid tape!”) And “Go apple!” “Go orange!” “Go banana!” is something my friends would quote quite often.
– If Otto’s going to have any last words, I can’t think of any better than “Zeppelin rules!”
– I like Bart mistaking Richard for Wendell, kind of a reference to how Bart’s other schoolyard chums have kind of been forgotten over the years.
– Bart has the loftiest of aspirations for their new dwellings, with one monkey butler at first, but he’s train the others. He gives the other kids their directives (“Martin, draw a plan for a coconut radio, and if possible, a coconut Nintendo system.”) I also like this exchange (“You guys gather food for the big feast tonight! And maybe a little wine for the older kids.” “Delicious wine?” “Exactly.”)
– Homer needs a cutting edge name for his company, like CutCo, EdgeCom or Interslice. Marge suggests CompuGloboHyperMegaNet. Homer dismisses it. Then uses it a few seconds later.
– Classic Ralph line: “They taste like… burning!”
– I must have seen this episode at least fifteen times, but I always thought Sherri (or Terri’s) line was, “I’m so hungry I could eat an army.” And the kids were shocked by that, and I never got the joke. But it was actually “eat at Arby’s.” I’m so disillusioned right now.
– Comic Book Guy’s the best thing about this episode, and I feel his pain; I remember how slow the Internet was in the long long ago, and wishing I had an Internet King to provide me with faster nudity. I also like Homer’s greeting when CBG goes to his “office” (“Welcome to the Internet, my friend, how can I help you?”) I should pull that sound byte and have it cue up every time I open my web browser.
– A court is held to determine if Milhouse is guilty or not. Nelson acts as prosecutor, consisting of him just pummeling the accused. Bart as judge allows this, but later motions that with no proof, Milhouse is not guilty. The kids proceed to turn on him, with Lisa as his only defender. I love how when she asks her brother for help, he replies, “I dunno, Lis, that verdict did make me pretty angry.”
– Milhouse proves to be kind of a dick, making Bart and Lisa carry him, and then abandoning them when he helps him get across the cliff.
– You could see the boar ending coming from the mile away, as well as the “twist” of them eating it. And I’m fine with the cop out ending, as it pretty much mirrors the cop out ending of the book. But it’s a great book though, you should read it if you haven’t.

191. The Joy of Sect

(originally aired February 8, 1998)
Cults prey upon the easily manipulated, laying out ridiculous and empty promises to mush-headed masses to lap up and give their all into, mentally, and especially financially. As such, the town of Springfield is a prime target for such chicanery. This show is already an all-around satire on American culture and its many aspects that a show like this seems unique in targeting something specific, almost in a way a show like South Park would. And while they had their own spectacular Scientology show, this episode is equally as biting and effective, with an overall strong premise and amusing payoff. Incredibly thick and dumb Homer is here, but in the context of the show he’s used effectively, almost like his role in “Homer’s Enemy.” He proves to be completely unfazed by any of the cult leader’s attempts to convert him, remaining as boorish and dimwitted as ever. Homer is a man who can absorb concepts and information, but has humungous mental blocks, that if broken, can get him completely on another path. Once they dissuade his mind with a mindless chant to the Batman theme, he’s the cult’s biggest supporter.

The Movementarians spew typical nonsense about pleasing the almighty Leader and the promise of a mothership to take them to a wonderful far-off planet Blisstonia. Their tactics are subtle and abrasive at the same time, insisting that people are free to leave at any time and do as they wish, but ultimately enslaving its members to lives of bean picking and brainwashing. Once converted, Homer is swift to sign over his house and possessions to the cult, much to Marge’s chagrin. It isn’t long before the kids are turned as well: Bart’s comes quickly when his desire to create mischief is bested, while Lisa’s is quite interesting as her desire for perfect grades forces her to change her beliefs. The sole holdout, Marge makes her escape and seeks the help of Reverend Lovejoy to rescue her family. I love the character interactions toward the end with Lovejoy and Flanders serving as the righteous, and Willie’s steadfast attempts to deprogram the Simpsons. The kids are easily tricked with the promise of hover bikes, and Homer is eventually tempted by the sweet taste of the forbidden beer.

As with any heavy-duty cult, the Movementarians have a heavy duty legal team, and manage to haul Homer away, reclaiming their property. However, one sweet drop of booze hitting his tongue was all Homer needed to see the light about the fraudulent nature of the cult. But, it would seem they were telling the truth, as Homer flings open the doors of the forbidden barn to find a massive spaceship. But, it was all just an elaborate ruse once again as the cult leader gets away with all of their money. It’s such an unbelievably stupid ending, but that’s what makes it great. The whole operation seems so efficient, but then became so ramshackle in the end, which would become the leader’s undoing as his unstable aircraft lands him smack dab into trouble. This is the first season 9 (production season wise) that I really liked; there are a few issues here and there, but it took a topic and skewered it well, provided enough laughs and interesting, true-to-character stuff to keep it going to its ridiculous end. Long live the Movementarians.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The airport set piece at the beginning is pretty good, the best part probably being Moleman at the “Just Crichton and King Bookstore” (“Do you have anything by Robert Ludlum?” “Get out.“)
– The town’s mob mentality is illustrated immediately in showing them rioting against their losing football team right after they land. It’s great how first we see Bart thanking Homer for letting them come there to see the team back from the championship, only to see it was to haze them. Then the mob flips over the entire plane, causing it to erupt into flames. So crazy.
– The Movementarian orientation film is wonderfully crummy, and by the end of its long duration, the masses are absolutely brainwashed by it. Especially spot on is the shaming spotlight that shines on anyone attempting to leave, keeping them in their place. I especially love Otto’s cover, that he was just attempting to readjust his underwear.
– Bart seems generally unmoved by Homer’s decision to join the Movementarians (“Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday. Does this really change our day to day lives?”)
– Bart goes off to raise some hell with his Li’l Bastard Mischief Kit, but is brought back within seconds completely brainwashed by one of the cult leaders, brandishing his own Li’l Bastard Brainwashing Kit.
– Brilliant bit from Lovejoy’s sermon to an empty church (“This so called ‘new religion’ is nothing but a pack of weird rituals and chants designed to take away the money of fools. Let us say the Lord’s prayer 40 times, but first let’s pass the collection plate!”)
– I like Marge’s complaints in the fields (“When we got married you promised by our harvesting days were over!”)
– Nice brief sidebar of Burns attempting to get tax exempt status in forming a new religion, with himself as the Almighty of course. He goes through a few prototype symbols, all of which are trademarked (“We’ll use this special K!” “I believe that’s already a breakfast cereal, sir.” “Do people worship it?” “In a way,”) but eventually falls victim of his own theatrics. Lenny is unimpressed, vowing to just stick with his Special K. He holds that thing right up to camera; I hope the writers got a few boxes of cereal for that free advertising.
– Marge must go through a veritable death maze to escape the Movementarian compound, ending in a giant bubble chasing her from The Prisoner. Seems kind of silly, but in a few seasons it would be the basis of a third act of a particularly horrible episode.
– I love Marge getting her kids back to normal, getting them off loving the Leader and onto loving the hoverbikes, which are revealed to be just normal bikes that are on loan. I also like how Ned’s comb sound effect thing is later reused by the Leader during his getaway.
– Great direction on Homer fighting his temptation, and just as the camera whips around to show the one drop of beer hit his tongue, the lawyers burst in and take him away. Ned is pretty steamed (“You know, I pride myself on being a good host, so I’m obliged to offer you a beer, but I’m so darn mad, it’s going to be mostly head!”)
– Willie proves to be kind of a lousy deprogrammer, becoming devout to the Leader after hearing Homer talk about him for a few seconds. Also great later when he attempts to chase after the just exposed fraud as he flies away.
– I love the crazy contraption the Leader is escaping in, it’s just so ridiculous and unsafe. And of course the money isn’t put in a bank or a safety deposit or anything, it’s in big bags with dollar signs on them. But ultimately he lands in Cletus’ yard, and is held at gunpoint for his ill gotten cash, so all is well.
– We end with a repeated joke from “Treehouse of Horror III,” but that’s okay. At least it fits with the theme, I suppose.

190. Bart Carny

(originally aired January 11, 1998)
A rather big thing about this season has been the shift in Homer’s characterization. I don’t mean to belabor this point, but he’s prevalent in pretty much every episode so far, and each one features him pushed to a new limit of either stupidity, recklessness or inconsideration. There have been plenty of moments in the past when exaggerated antics have garnered big laughs, but the problem is when it runs through almost every scene in every episode. This show features a lot of childish and braindead Homer, and some of it works, but a fair share of it doesn’t. The family spends an evening at the carnival, where Bart ends up wrecking the star attraction: Hitler’s staff car. The owner demands Bart work for him to repay him, and for some reason or another, Homer does to. He begs and pleads him like a child, to be specific. Totally makes sense. It just seemed like the writers needed to have Homer there for the plot, so it just happened. We get no scene of Marge hearing about this, or why he’s not at the plant, it just happened. That’s a problem that would emerge with later seasons; stuff would just happen.

Homer and Bart end up befriending a fellow father-son carny team: Cooder and his boy Spud. Jim Varney gives a fine performance as the former, but on the whole there’s nothing too memorable about these characters. They previously scammed the two with their ring toss game, now hand the reigns over to them while they attend their AA meeting. Another thing featured here that I don’t really care for: Homer and Bart as a team. The two have always generally been adversarial, and times when they work together have some kind of meaning or specific reason. Here, they’re like an odd comedy duo, where Bart’s the straight man and Homer’s the dummy. It works for a line or two (I like Cooder’s quick decision to give Bart the money box, with Bart responding, “Good call,”) but it’s just a strange dynamic. The attempted bribe scene with Wiggum is also conflicting: I think it’s well timed and kind of amusing, but I kind of felt it was too much, Homer can’t possibly have any functioning brain cells at that point.

With the ring toss booth repossessed by the police, Cooder and Spud are homeless, leaving Homer no choice but to let them stay with him. To repay them for their kindness, the two give the Simpsons ticket to a glass bottom boat ride, but when the family returns, find the carnies have changed the locks, boarded up the windows and taken to squatting in their house. I guess this whole show is about the art of the swindle, going from a cheap carnival game to a much grander scale. And it pays off in the end with Homer’s ring toss challenge for the deed to the house. But around that, there just seems to be a lot of dead air. There’s the yard work opening that has no bearing to the actual plot (we’d see plenty of that later on), and the carnival set piece only really has a few jokes, though it carries on for the first two acts. There were a few laughs along the way, I do like the ending, but I’m not really a big fan of this one, carny code be damned.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Bart and Lisa’s petulant “Ding ding ding!” followed by Homer dashing through the room thinking it’s the ice cream man really made me laugh. In that scene and context, I believe Lisa’s laziness, and am fine with Homer acting like a child. A little goes a long way.
– I like how Marge getting the upper hand when Bart and Lisa need money get shit on by Homer dashing to the rescue with his exploding wallet, and them all dinging as they run out. But then we get to the carnival and Marge is being pushed around again. I kind of felt she should have stayed home; she’d have no interest in a carnival anyway.
– The Tooth Chipper is great, but I kind of felt it went on too long. You get the joke after one shot, then they have it twice and we hear Homer on it.
– I like Homer coming to tears over his novelty comb, and the sight of him later combing his two hairs with it is pretty funny.
– The morning montage with the classic Greig music is pretty great, with the blossoming burger wrapper, shifting the lettering on the signs, and spraying the rats off the hot dog warmer.
– Bart’s first target for the ring toss game is Skinner and his mother (“All right, Simpson. Be honest with me. Is it actually possible to win this game?” “If I like it, it is.” “Hot dog! Let’s go.”) Agnes berates Skinner the entire time he’s trying to win a lamp for her, and with his last few rings, takes aim at a large knife instead. Seems like almost too dark of a joke.
– Like Marge’s hyper-aware shudder after Homer agrees to let Cooder and Spud stay with them; she knows something is amiss…
– The glass bottom boat ride starts out strong, then ends weak. We see the mysteries of Springfield’s briny deep, shopping carts, nuclear waste, a barrel of Li’l Lisa Slurry, and an old glass bottom boat (I love how the tour guide cavalierly mentions how “eight-eight souls” were lost on it). Great stuff. Then we end with Homer and Bart being brats taunting a shark through the glass. Not only is it the two acting as partners in crime again, but it’s such a blatant and obvious gag. And not funny.
– How did none of the family notice the boarded up windows walking up to their door. …whatever.
– Cooder in Homer’s clothes is kind of amusing (“Look at me! I’m a millionaire!”) as is their using a flaming barrel for heat instead of a fire place, with photo albums for kindling (“‘Precious Moments’ or ‘Treasured Memories’?” “Quit your yappin’! I’m freezing!”)
– I love the animation of Homer’s proposal to Cooder through the peephole. It’s visually interesting, and kind of puts you in Cooder’s head, like whether you would accept Homer’s deal. I really do like this ending, where the tension just builds and builds, then they just run into the house. It’s a pretty good ruse, at least Cooder is impressed (“Well, there’s no shame in being beaten by the best.” “But, he didn’t seem…” “We were beaten by the best, boy.”) I buy that Homer was clever enough to think of that, but this is the same show where his brain was shut off during the bribe scene, so questionable, I guess.