218. Marge Simpson in “Screaming Yellow Honkers”

(originally aired February 21, 1999)
Marge is a demure, subdued person holding back a lot of passion, so episodes like this where she unleashes some untapped emotion are always interesting to see. But this is season 10 we’re talking about, so it’s not quite as developed or impacting as something like “Marge on the Lam” or “$pringfield.” The show seems to be on fast-forward, moving past all moments of emotional resonance, all so we can get to the absolutely dumb action set piece ending that’s oh-so necessary. We start on an intolerable set piece of the faculty of Springfield Elementary doing a talent show. Is this for a charity of some kind? They don’t say, so apparently they’re just doing it for… whatever. These are people who bolt out of the school at the last bell faster than the students; they hate their jobs, but now they’re just permanently tethered to the school just so they can do something wacky for wackynesses sake. When the crowd rushes out mid-show, Homer spots Krusty in his behemoth of a vehicle the Canyonero. So why is Krusty at a school talent show? Was he a judge? More cramming in characters wherever. This may seem like nitpicking, but this is the kind of stuff the show usually put a lot of thought into. Now it’s just whoever we need at whatever time we need them.

Homer impulsively buys a Canyonero, but is mortified to find he’s accidentally gotten the F-Series for women (Lenny points out that instead of a cigarette lighter, it has a lipstick holder.) Not wanting to be seen driving a girl’s car, Homer takes Marge’s, leaving her to drive the beastly SUV. She slowly becomes warmed up to it, with its extra space for groceries and polite GPS system, and before long she ends up with a severe case of road rage. The problem is we don’t really spend that much time on Marge’s condition. Bart encourages her to cut through a field to get out of gridlock, then we see her obsessing over the car at home, then next scene we see her full blown raging while driving. Then Wiggum pulls her over and assigns her to the anger management class in ten seconds. It’s like a switch just turned on in her brain or something; if we got a scene or two more of her increasing frustration on the road that made sense for Marge, I would buy it. Also missing is the family’s response to this behavior: compare with “$pringfield” and the family’s, particularly Homer’s, views on Marge’s gambling, it’s a major part of the episode. Here, road rage isn’t even mentioned once by the family.

Marge goes to anger management, but ultimately ends up getting her license taken from her. So the stage is set for the ending, something where she sees the dangers of reckless driving and learns her lesson? No, let’s do the opposite, but in the most ridiculous way possible. At the zoo, Homer thoughtlessly causes an animal chain reaction that lets some incensed rhinos loose, ending in leaving him and the kids stuck atop the roof of their car. Wiggum seeks out Marge’s help, under the thought that she’s the only one ruthless enough to corral the animals back into their pen. Makes no sense, yeah, but it does make sense as Wiggum logic. So Marge drives the Canyonero and puts the rhino back. But then there’s one more left who takes Homer off through the town. Then Homer breaks free. But then the rhino attacks him in the porta-john. Then Marge saves the day. Then I fall asleep. Such an overindulgent ending. When did they feel like they had to end every episode with a big action set piece? This would have worked a lot better as a smaller, more emotionally driven story. Instead it feels like they got stuck and just went with whatever they felt fit. Great work.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The talent show opens with them singing, “We’re proud to be teachers…” Yet we see Willie and Lunchlady Doris; you’d think this event would be just for teachers, like faces the parents would recognize. I was shocked that there were one or two extras there, but I’m sure only because they didn’t have enough characters to complete the human pyramid. Anyway, the show has zero laughs in-universe and out; the only thing I smirked at was Chalmers muttering under his breath calling Skinner a “sexless freak” as he stormed off stage.
– Gil makes a good appearance; I love his absolute shock, then delight at Homer’s eagerness to buy a car, then his sale is swiped by a more savvy salesman. He then has to make a sorry call to his wife on a rotary cell phone (“Honey, you should have seen me with my last customer, I… no, but I came so close. This guy was… Whose voice is that? Is that Fred? Aw, you said it was over! No, don’t put him on- Hello, Fred, hi!”)
– Marge refuses to give Homer her keys, so he hot wires her car in two seconds and takes off with it. Yeah, so more of Homer being an asshole, and doing wacky things which totally make sense that he can do. The man can barely function a toaster, he’s gonna hot wire a car?
– Marge tests out her high-intensity halogen headlights, which seemingly can pierce through the walls of the house into the kitchen. Then more likeable Homer as he goes to scold Bart for rummaging through Marge’s purse, then proceeds to join him.
– Always took umbrage with Marge’s “Oh for God’s sakes, go back to New Jersey!” being a Jersey native myself. I take even more umbrage now living in Florida, where it’s ten times worse being on the road than in Jersey.
– Wiggum’s “Can the sweet talk, Thelma and Louise!” made me really wish I was watching “Marge on the Lam” right now…
– So the film “Road Rage: Death Flips the Finger.” Right off the bat, you feel Phil Hartman’s absence, replaced by a gruff cop voiced by Tress MacNeille. But it’s actually the highlight of the episode, full of great bits like the crazy astronaut driver and the sergeant final message (“Anger is what makes America great, but you must find a proper outlet for your rage. Fire a weapon at your television screen. Pick a fight with someone weaker than you. Or, write a threatening letter to a celebrity. So when you go out for a drive, remember to leave your murderous anger where it belongs: at home.”)
– Nice bit with Eddie as Curtis E. Bear, the courtesy bear, where the students can release their anger unto him via complimentary 2x4s (“Can I at least shield my crotch?” “Bears can’t talk, Eddie.”)
– Wiggum can’t tear up Marge’s license since it’s laminated, so hands it to Marge to do it, who then tears it up into little pieces like it was paper. Is this too nit-picky? I dunno, I just noticed it.
– So yeah, if the ending isn’t stupid enough, it’s of course started by Homer being a jerk and slingshotting a sleeping lemur against his daughter’s protests (“Daddy will fix that broken animal!”) Brain cells are dropping rapidly…
– There’s an shot of people running out of the zoo from the rhinos that looked kinda weird, like the characters seemed too specifically detailed. It didn’t quite sit well with me. The commentary reveals it was Mike Scully, his wife and his kids. Scully comments, “Take that, No Homers.” Ugh.
– From the moment they threw Homer into the porta-john, I knew that after the rhino was subdued, they’d have a joke where he proceeded to use the facilities. Sometimes you can see a joke coming a mile away, but it’s still funny, but this… is not one of those times. And sure enough, they did it.
– I don’t know what to think about the whole NBC ending. It feels kind of strange and random, but it’s partially saved by the voice-over on the credits (“I’d like to read the following statement, but I do so under… [gun cock] …my own free will. It has come to my attention that NBC sucks. I apologize for misleading you and urge you to watch as many FOX shows as possible. So in summary, NBC: bad, FOX: good. CBS great.” [multiple gun shots, body hitting the floor])

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5 responses to “218. Marge Simpson in “Screaming Yellow Honkers”

  1. “This both sucks and blows” is the one good line the episode gives us, and I still use it occasionally. Sums up the episode pretty well.

  2. This might be the first of instance of the “characters suddenly trapped in a deadly situation leaving someone to save the day” finale that would get used another hundred times or so. Rhinos, fire, water, lava, a big model stomach…sigh.

    I suppose the reindeer in Homer’s Phobia was actually the first example, but that at least felt half-natural in context.

  3. Wait, when did the Simpsons get enough money to buy a new car like that (or go to the Super Bowl or fly to Hollywood or whatever)? I thought they couldn’t even afford to replace the dryer.

    This is part of why the show went wrong. Before, they had real world constraints; they were a realistic family (ish) with normal problems (except when they didn’t, if course). Zombie Simpsons can buy anything, go anywhere, as the nonsensical plot requires. How? Doesn’t matter ITS SO WACKY OMG!!!!

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