Monthly Archives: May 2012

251. Insane Clown Poppy

(originally aired November 12, 2000)
A couple commenters have brought up how despite shows in the Scully era having shit for stories and awful characterization, the memorable and amusing quotes and scenes at least keep them somewhat watchable, unlike later years where episodes would be so ineffective and innocuous that they’d all run together. I think I agree with that; in spite of all the awfulness that went down during his four-year run, at least Mike Scully’s tenure has a distinctness to it, as with the show runners before him. In kind, this show has a fair amount of amusing bits, but not enough to save the totally muddled story and ridiculous ending. We open of course with stupid Homer doing stupid things, namely blowing through his chores list with dynamite. They later end up at a book fair, which for some reason is populated with the likes of Stephen King, Amy Tan, and John Updike, a veritable parade of worthless guest appearances. Updike is especially disconcerting; all he says is his name and he chuckles. That’s it? What a waste.

Krusty is doing a book signing and is shocked to find Sophie, a girl claiming to be his daughter. Born from one frisky night whilst Krusty was in the Middle East at a USO show, she finally has tracked down her show business father. Sophie is voiced by Drew Barrymore, and her interplay with Castellaneta is pretty sweet. Despite his profession, Krusty has absolutely no idea how to deal with children, and that’s especially the case with his kid (“I’m not the kind of dad who, you know, does things, or says stuff or looks at ya. But the love is there!”) The scenes with the two of them are pretty good, but where the episode loses me is when they cram Homer in there who Krusty seeks parental advice from. This inevitably leads to more wackiness and pathetic dialogue involving Homer having short term memory loss and ignoring the frightened cries of his children. It would have made more sense if Krusty enlisted Bart’s help, asking him to teach him how kids think and what they want. By the third act when Krusty bursts into the Simpsons back door asking for help, I’m wondering why this man, who I’m sure has plenty of assistants and other contacts, is turning to this schlubby upper-lower-middle class family with his personal problems.

Krusty bets his daughter’s violin on what he thinks is an unsinkable hand in poker, but loses it to Fat Tony. So Homer suggests they break into the mafia compound to get it back. Silly and ridiculous, but an idea with potential, and it has a lot of amusing bits throughout. And it gave us Johnny Tightlips (“Where’d they hit ya?” “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’.” “But what’ll I tell the doctor?” “Tell him to suck a lemon.”) But there’s really no rhyme or reason to the climax; they make all this effort about sneaking in, then make their escape through the main area in front of everybody. Then a shootout ensues and they make their escape with no raminifcations at all. It’s like they had no ending and just bailed. So there’s a few amusing bits and ideas here, but with a pointless first act, loads of jerkass Homer, and an ineffective climax, this one ain’t too good on the whole. But even with all that, I’m still entertained by something like this more than I would a season 17 episode, which all just run together in a bland mess in my mind. But more on that in time.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer and Bart dymamiting their chores is totally stupid and gratiutious, though I admit I like them blowing out Marge’s drawer (“Do you want the job done right, or do you want it done fast?” “Well, like all Americans, fast.”) and being surprised that it works. Their coup de grace is completely destroying Lisa’s bedroom, on her birthday, no less. She is understandably horrified, and Homer shows little to no remorse about it (“This must be a rough time for you.  Do you have any friends or family you can stay with?”) It’s like the plot of “Make Room For Lisa,” but even worse because it’s just the throwaway opening. Lisa is not affected by this after this scene, and Homer is a jerk to her not once but twice more this show. He says he’ll do anything to make it up to her, a good start, but when she suggests the book fair, he relents. But they end up at the fair anyway. But I guess they figured he wasn’t cruel enough, so they ADR’d him saying, “Stupid Lisa.” Fuck Homer.
– I like Reverend Lovejoy’s “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Jesus” and his “stigmuffins” (with a hole in them, of course) Then there’s his Mary Magdalene’s Chocolate Orgasms, an eclair that when Homer bits into it, the cream shoots out of it. This is three questionable sex jokes in a row this season, with one of them being funny and the other two being offputting and weird.
– Dr. Nick has a booth at the fair too (“With my diet, you can eat all you want, any time you want.” “And you lose weight?” “Uh, you might. It’s a free country!”)
– My favorite celebrity in this show isn’t voiced by a celebrity… sort of. It’s Christopher Walken, voiced by Jay Mohr, reading “Goodnight Moon” to terrified children (“Please, children, scootch closer. Don’t make me tell you again about the scootching. You in the red, chop-chop.”)
– Krusty’s USO show ends disastrously thanks to some easily offended soldiers. The Cincinatti Bengel cheerleaders don’t sway them too well (“I can’t look at that! I have a girlfriend back home!” “This is an insult to our Muslim hosts!”)
– Creepy and uncomfortable scene where Homer is gossiping to God about how many guys Maude Flanders is banging in heaven. He’s so weird in this whole episode; the story’s not about him, but he’s all over the episode, making annoying noises and making dumb jokes in the background.
– The animation of Krusty searching around his car is pretty good; the flashlight shining about, him getting shot into the backseat by the airbag, it’s visually interesting. I also like his hallucination of his hand persuading Krusty to bet Sophie’s violin. But before he can, Fat Tony has his appraiser look it over (“Well, it won’t bring much cash, but its sentimental value is through the roof!”)
– Homer and Krusty attempt to get into Fat Tony’s compound via the power lines, but their weight drags them down right above Legs and Louie’s heads. Thankfully, they are none the wiser (“Hey, I heard there’s a lunar eclipse tonight. Maybe we should look up.” “Nah. For me, it’s solar or nothing.”)
– We of course have to undercut the emotional ending with Homer getting chased by mobsters, then get shot at while he screams and yells. And he’s almost scot free when he apologizes, then he taunts them and he pays the price for it. He deserves it. Shouldn’t we always be sympathizing with our main character? I find I’m rooting against him quite a lot recently.

250. A Tale of Two Springfields

(originally aired November 5, 2000)
Wow, two hundred and fifty episodes. And I got nearly two hundred more to go. Oof. But while I’ve essentially given up hope that the show will return to its former glory in terms of storytelling, I still think I’m gonna get a fair amount of laughs from these remaining seasons. This episode kind of shocked me in that I found myself chuckling at a fair amount of the jokes. The show itself has a laundry list of problems with it, and it’s by no means good, but I actually enjoyed watching it for the most part. It’s… baffling. Homer is dumbfounded when he is informed that the town has been split up into two area codes, and rather than memorize three extra numbers, he raises a stink at a town hall meeting and decrees his side of town with secede and become New Springfield. Homer is made mayor, and it of course isn’t long before his fellow citizens jump ship across city lines, and he must come up with a plan to get his townspeople back.

Homer is an absolute maniac here, having a nervous breakdown upon hearing the tri-tone, coming to city hall strapped with dynamite, and smashing his hand through glass windows in stores to pick up items. But what’s so odd is that I was amused with all this. I think the show crossed the threshold here, in making the content so ridiculous and absurd that it came back around to being funny again. There’s things Homer does here that still pisses me off, like thinking the phone mascot in the film is a real person and chloroforming his wife, but his wacky antics, while nothing akin to classic Homer, still were kind of amusing. I think that despite the plot being kind of dumb and a mess, the episode was helped by a lot of great individual lines and scenes. Olde and New Springfield’s petty rivalries were reminiscent of Springfield and Shelbyville’s feud, and just as asinine. Even special guest stars the Who were funny, and actually were set up in the beginning of the show when Homer lost his chance to get free tickets to see them. They actually bothered to lay groundwork for their celebrity appearance. I’m shocked.

I feel so weird praising this episode so much… It’s by no means good. The plot is pretty flimsy and its resolution even more so. Despite my praise, Homer is still a complete dunce, and there’s no way that anyone would consider him qualified to be a mayor. None of it really makes sense in terms of characters acting like humans, it’s just a bunch of silly stuff that follows a very general plot. It’s not classic Simpsons, but in a weird bizarre way it kind of works. There’s a fair amount of junk in here, namely Homer acting out and yelling and screaming, like when he get set on fire atop the wall and attacked by the badger at the beginning. I’ve always said humor can absolve many sins, and this episode ate through some of them. I’d say the good and the bad are about even here, and I’m just surprised that I ended up so favorable about this episode. Have I gone mad? I guess we’ll see as our season begins…

Tidbits and Quotes
– At the time of the first airing, FOX had registered I was curious if it was still active, but it just redirects to the main Simpsons website. It was a clever conceit. They’d later do it again this season for the Mr. X blog.
– The badger rips Homer’s torso apart, revealing his internal organs. I… really have no words. I can’t even complain about the logistics, or why Homer and Lisa are so nonchalant about it, because I don’t believe what I am seeing.
– I like how upset Homer gets about such a minute change (“939!? What the hell is that!? Oh, my life is ruined!”) and how he basically shoos away the badger story in favor of this one (“Go away, we got bigger problems now!”)
– Classic bit with Homer’s written reminder on his hand (Lenny = White, Carl = Black).
– Love the outro line of the first act (“Now who’s stupid!”) …you are, and everyone else in your crazed mob.
– The Olde v. New Springfield bits are great, with Bart tricking the bullies into doing his homework over city lines, and Marge feeling nervous about going to the Kwik-E-Mart in Olde Springfield (“I don’t know why, but I just didn’t feel comfortable until I was back here in New Springfield with my own kind. They were looking at me… with their eyes!”)
– Nice dirty joke from Kent Brockman after the town discovers gold (“Thanks, Mayor Simpson. Because of you, we’re all taking golden showers!”) Production assistants giggle in the background. This makes more sense and is funny, unlike Homer randomly mentioning a glory hole last episode.
– I like the terrible guard who instead of throwing Bart and Homer out, makes good on his sarcastic promise and takes them to the Who. He’s also impervious to being fired (“Oh, yeah, right; I got fired by The Who. Whatever you say, pal.”)
– The Who are actually pretty funny here (“Come on, what happened to the angry, defiant Who of ‘My Generation,’ ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ and ‘Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box’?” “We know our songs, Homer.”) (“Just send the car for us.” “What, something wrong with your legs?” “You’re right. The walk will do us good.”) And of course, the Who Huddle.
– Nice commentary by Krusty and Sideshow Mel waiting for the Who to perform (“I opened for The Who at Woodstock. I came out in a Beatle wig with a ukulele. Hendrix said he almost plotzed! His exact words.” “Oh, I never tire of that story.”) I pull that Mel line out when the situation seems appropriate.
– Homer dancing on the wall like a moron is pretty awful, but it’s saved by John and Roger’s perplexed looks at each other.
– Awful ending where Homer passes the buck of the blame to his wife and then drugs her, and a swarm of badgers enter the city to maul everybody. But at least I got some Who to listen to.

249. Treehouse of Horror XI

(originally aired November 1, 2000)
Ah, the first Halloween episode to be aired after Halloween. It became almost a tradition in itself; it always came as a result of FOX’s baseball coverage running to the end of October, and it always infuriated me. It became so predictable that even the show itself started commenting on it (“Remember Halloween? It was last week.”) Eventually FOX started their Sunday shows back in September again, but that was a year or so before I gave up on the series. And plus it’s not like it made the Treehouse of Horrors any less terrible. This one is absolutely the weakest so far, especially coming off the heels of the awesome one last year. There’s nothing particularly offensive about them, they’re just overall not terribly clever or funny. “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad” is indicative of that, where Homer dies and must perform one good deed as an apparition to get into Heaven. There’s one or two smile-worthy moments, but is really nothing special. Homer is stuck in jerkass mode here. The opening where he acts nonplussed after almost getting killed numerous times is kind of aggravating; while I acknowledge that’s the point of the joke, it just reminds me of this new characterization of him feeling he’s invincible and awesome.

“Scary Tales Can Come True” is an amalgam of riffs on fairy tales as peasant Bart and Lisa traverse through the dark woods encountering trolls, the three bears and a wicked witch seeking to eat them. Again, nothing all too memorable. I’ll say particular to this segment, and also the one after it, a lot of really graphic violence. Goldilocks getting mauled, Rapunzel getting scalped, the witch getting cooked alive, there’s some brutal stuff in here. I feel later Treehouse of Horrors would ramp up the gore factor, I guess as a result of TV standards being more and more lenient, but that doesn’t make the shows any better or more scary. In fact, it kind of hurts it, since a lot of times the violence is so ridiculously cartoonish that it sucks any dramatic tension out of the scene. Compare Martin’s death in “Treehouse of Horror VI” to anything here and you can see the difference. Sometimes violence is best left to the imagination.

“Night of the Dolphin” features Lisa’s humanitarian effort in freeing a captive dolphin backfiring on her, when the aquatic creatures mobilize and come ashore, seeking to take back the land from the humans. This segment is just as violent, with decapitation, bashing faces in, skewering through torsos, and much much more fun. I sound like I’m some kind of harpy media watchdog complaining about the “offensive” content, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There’s nothing really funny about the over-the-top violence, at least the way it’s done here, so it all kind of feels for naught. On the whole the segment just felt very silly. When head dolphin Snorky reveals he can talk, it felt like too much, even though that’s the only way they could convey the story point. Made even worse is there was like no lip sync, so it felt like someone poorly performing a puppet. There’s a nice The Birds reference and a few chuckles around, but a lot of it just fell flat. “Treehouse of Horror X” really felt like a last hurrah for Halloween shows, and this episode does more to prove that. Hopefully there will be a few shining segments in the future, but given what I can remember about them, I’m not all that hopeful. But who knows…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do like the Munsters opening, the character parallels really do work, and I love that show. The townspeople arrive to do the family in, save Lisa of course, as a purebred human, who walks off as nonchalantly as possible.
– Nice bit at the kitchen table where Marge has cut out Beetle Bailey from the paper, tired of her husband ogling Miss Buxley. She suggests he read Cathy, which Homer declines (“Too much baggage.”)
– It’s really dumb, but I do like Hibbert’s explanation of broccoli being deadly (“Why, it tries to warn you itself with its terrible taste.”) Also great are the medical attendants, who have to tone it down in front of the kids (“Sure is easy when they’re stiff like this. …and very sad.”)
– This may feel like the nittiest of picks, but I kept trying to figure out to what effect ghost Homer could affect objects on Earth and vice versa. He can touch and hold things, which is necessary for the end, but he has no organs as evidenced by the Squishee scene. Nelson is able to attack him, but how can a real person physically touch a ghost? I know this is so nit picky, but it’s just what I was thinking while watching.
– I like Bart’s solution to the immortal hot-cold porridge dilemma: just mix the two together and you get the perfect temperature (“This doesn’t take a genius.”)
– Bart and Lisa dash out of the three bears’ house, and Bart bars the door shut with a chair. But we saw twice that it opens out the other way. Yet when Goldilocks tries to open the door to escape, it doesn’t budge. I sure hope someone gets fired for that blunder.
– Nice homage to The Brady Bunch in the witch’s seemingly fake boyfriend George Cauldron (“Maybe he can set me up with Ed Ladle!”) And good callback when he’s shown to be real at the end (“Is Suzanne ready yet?” “Almost, just give her another 20 minutes.” “But the concert’s at eight.”)
– The only thing I liked in the dolphin segment was Sideshow Mel’s over dramatic set-up to Snorky talking, which almost saves the bit (“Surely, he cannot speak!”) Then later Homer mentions one of man’s greatest accomplishments to be the glory hole. Um… now, a glory hole is a furnace used in glass blowing, but I doubt Homer knows what that is. But I don’t want to know why he knows about the other kind of glory hole either. What the fuck’s with that?
– Kang and Kodos get squeezed in at the very end, annoyed they were left out of the show (“Do we want to do a commercial for something called ‘Old Navy’?” “Work is work.”)

248. Behind the Laughter

(originally aired May 21, 2000)
Somewhere out there, there must be a parallel universe in which this exists as the show’s series finale. What a world that would be, huh? The show acknowledging the well had gone dry and decided to go out with an insanely meta episode that put that realization at the forefront. Not only does it send up itself, but it also deftly parodies all the tropes and cliches of the “rise-and-fall” story of so many bands featured in “Behind the Music.” They even have Jim Forbes do the narration to authenticate it. The idea itself is so strange, in revealing that this is a “real” show and the Simpsons are actors, but actually still a real family. Kind of like when Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd would talk about their contracts with Warner Brothers and address the audience. I remember absolutely loving this episode when it first aired, and while I don’t think it’s quite as funny or clever as I used to, it definitely stands out; the concept alone makes it a landmark episode.

There’s not really a plot to describe, so to speak. We find the Simpsons show got its start when Homer filmed his own crude demo tape of his family after getting frustrated of never seeing families like his on TV, similar to the inception of the show in real life (“TV families were always hugging and tackling issues.”) Turned down by all the real networks, Homer must settle for FOX, who orders thirteen episodes, and the rest basically can write itself. The episode recreates the history of the Simpsons’ fame, but as if they were real characters. Bart Simpson T-shirts, cash-in records, and money by the truckload, the Simpsons were a national phenomenon. There’s so many great nods to Simpsons lore, like Bart’s insistence of never having said “cowabunga,” which reminded me of Matt Groening’s assurance that he never did, and for the first time actually addressing Homer’s strangling for what it really is (“And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our most beloved running gags.”)

As so many rock bands before them, the Simpsons are fast and loose with their cash, dwindling their savings to almost nothing before the IRS busts them on tax evasion. Things only go downhill from there until they have a huge falling out, a fence that can only be mended by one man: Willie Nelson. This episode’s patron saint is Jim Forbes, delivering all of his lines with such professionalism and seriousness (“That night, fate wore a cummerbund… of suspense.”) The new intro sequence, the phony “coming-up-next”s, it all authenticates the experience that you’re watching something different. In its decline segment, the series actually takes some harsh shots at itself for pandering guest stars and nonsensical plots, but in my opinion, not harsh enough. But the episode is ballsy, I’ll give it that. I feel there’s more to dissect in this one in sections than in an overall summary, so I think I’ll wrap it up. Once again I’ll reiterate how perfect this would have been as a series finale. After a season filled with over-the-top crazy cartoonish nonsense, the show just throws up its hands and forgoes its established universe entirely, going out with a show that not only exposes the entire series as being a fraud, but “reveals” where Springfield is in the last minute. Could’ve been a wonderful outro. Yep. Would’ve been sweet…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I don’t know why the opening title sequence is still on the episode. It should just start immediately, since this is technically a different show. Then the fake-out with going through the clouds to the still shot of the family on the couch would have worked.
– Part of me kind of wishes they had pushed the personalities of the characters in weirder directions, since these are technically just actors. Marge gets it a little when she tells Homer to shit or get off the pot, but it would have been fun to push it a bit more.
– Again, much love for Jim Forbes. Great bit of calling Homer a “penniless Peckinpah.”)
– Great take on doing a Beatles parody in having girls go mad over footage of Bart, then it’s revealed to be taking place in a hysteria ward.
– Nice swipe at the Bart Simpson T-shirts with the lifted slogans (“Life Begins at Conception, Man!”) Reminds me of the DVD commentary story of the Bart billboard on the FOX lot going from clever quips the writers would come up with to just announcing executive’s birthdays, and eventually “Increase Productivity, Man!”
– Love all the labels placed beneath each interviewee, calling Grampa a “coot,” Krusty as “disgruntled,” and Gloria Allred, of course, a “shrill feminist attorney.”
– Always loved this read from Moe (“Homer was spending money like a teenage Arab. He bought me a Rolex and, uh, Cashmere jeans. I felt kinda guilty ’cause I was always trying to score with his wife. So, when do we start filming? …oh.”)
– The explanation of why Homer had to do the gorge stunt is pretty amusing, as is the aftermath. But here’s where I take issue: “Somehow, Homer became addicted to painkillers. It was the only way he could perform the bone-cracking physical comedy that made him a star.” Homer becoming popular and a beloved character had nothing to do with him getting hurt in ridiculous ways. If you’ll notice, the quad-screen of clips shown during that bit are all from seasons 9-11, and are all horrible, especially listening to them all at once. Then later we see other clips while Homer is talking, all shorter, one from “Sideshow Bob Roberts” and the other from “A Milhouse Divided.” Moments of Homer getting hurt and screaming are few and far between in the first eight years, and that’s what made them so funny. One of the greatest moments of the series ever is Bart hitting Homer with the chair in “Divided,” it’s a perfect storm of funny, that it had a set-up, but also was totally random that he would do it in the tub. Castellaneta’s screams and wails are hysterical because it’s not just out of pain, but also shock and confusion of what the hell just happened and why. I love Homer for so many reasons, but his ability to take great amounts of pain is not one of them. But I guess the writers don’t agree.
– Somewhat disturbing image of seeing Marge’s scolding visage on a diaphragm. That’s easily a mood killer.
– I love how poorly Apu is obscured in the shadows as the anonymous tipster. You can see the Kwik-E-Mart behind him, he has no voice distortion, and you can see his hand when he gestures to the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny tray.
– I’ve always loved this exchange (“Dad, I want to go to bed. Aren’t there child labor laws?” “Who told you about those laws? Was it Marge?”)
– So the show takes a shot at itself using gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots, highlighting “The Principal and the Pauper.” Good, but better if they also mentioned fucking nonsense like “Saddlesore Galactica” and “Viva Ned Flanders.” Also they mention “trendy” guest stars like Butch Patrick, Tom Kite and Stephen Hawking. I guess the joke is that they’re not exactly what you’d call ratings-grabbing guest stars, but I still would rather see more brutal honesty and show such disposable and worthless celebrities like Mel Gibson or Britney Spears.
– My favorite bit of the show is when Forbes talk about the later Simpsons episodes resulting in yawns in the ratings. Clip of a guy yawning. “…angry yawns.” Clip of a guy yawning angrily. It happens so quick, and I had no idea how one yawned angrily before that point, but whatever that noise was, it completely nailed it.
– Love the family’s solo careers: Homer in “Rent II: Condo Fever” (“I literally chewed the scenery,”) Bart filling in for Lorenzo Lamas in “Renegade,” Marge’s dinner show (“So the next time you see a sheriff, shoot him… a smile!”) and Lisa’s tell-all book (“To prolong the run of the series, I was secretly given anti-growth hormones.” “That’s ridiculous. How could I even get all five necessary drops into her cereal?”)
– Kinda like that Hibbert was fraternity brothers with Willie Nelson (“I’d do anything for Kegmeister Julius.”)
– Revealing the Simpsons as living in northern Kentucky is amazing, since it’s not really a reveal since this is the location of the “real” Springfield. But it also explains why the town isn’t really anywhere, since it’s shown here as a fake show. Re-runs would switch back and forth between Kentucky and southern Missouri, but on the DVD, it’s just Kentucky. I love that they just threw it in at the end to blow minds.
– Bittersweet moment where Homer leans over to the editor and comments, “This’ll be the last season.” If only. Not only that, but the clip they’re editing was used in the next season’s finale “Simpsons Tall Tales,” so you think maybe they were right. But nope. Not even close.
– “Next week on ‘Behind the Laughter’: Huckleberry Hound.” “I was so gay. But I couldn’t tell anyone!”

Season 11 Final Thoughts
Hoo boy, well I’ll say this, even though there seemed to be a lot more shit in this season, the bar set at season 10 was pretty much kept still. Pretty much all the awfulness that occurred last season was confirmed to be here to stay in this one. The proficiency of storytelling has pretty much evaporated, replaced with whatever the hell the writers can come up with for unrelated set ups and ridiculous, out of left field climaxes. Characterization waxes and wanes depending on what cheap joke or plot turn they need to pull off. Humor is coming more from over-the-top physical comedy and dumb jokey jokes than actual satire or multi-layered gags. Homer is now completely brain dead, barely resembling a functioning human being anymore, and the rest of the cast has begun their process of caricaturization, turning in one-note shades of their former fleshed-out selves. Though there are a few glimmers of quality and brilliance, this season and the show’s future is pretty dark. The series has reached a low point, and there’s no telling how much lower it can possibly go. And I still have nine more seasons left. Holy macaroni…

With classic seasons, it was always so difficult to pick out the best episodes because there were so many, and the worst because there were basically none. From this season on… it’s pretty much going to be the reverse of that.

The Best
“Treehouse of Horror X,” “E-I-E-I-D’oh!,” “Grift of the Magi,” “Pygmoelian,” “Behind the Laughter”

The Worst
“Beyond Blunderdome,” “Saddlesore Galactica,” “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly,” “Bart to the Future,” “Kill the Alligator and Run”

247. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge

(originally aired May 14, 2000)
Marge episodes must be so very hard to write. Even in its classic days, the series seemed to struggle a bit with handling the character; that being said, what chance does the show have now with it? Last season we had the ridiculous road rage episode, which was pretty lame, but at least premise-wise had a somewhat workable idea in its head. This episode, I don’t know what they were thinking. Marge’s jealousy turns into insane rage, turning into possible insanity? If it were written perfectly with no plot holes or flimsy characterization it would be a stretch, but here, this shit just don’t make no sense. But first let’s clear through some other business. We open with Otto proposing to his girlfriend Becky, and thanks to Bart’s generous nature (and tendency to not ask permission), the wedding is held at the Simpson house. Now, Otto has never been the most developed or dynamic character. “The Otto Show” displayed his limited range, but still gave somewhat of a deeper insight into our favorite lowlife bus driver. Here he feels so one-note. He proposes to his girlfriend in the bus, drives to and from the wedding in the bus, why does he drive the bus everywhere? Rather than expand out characters, later seasons would relegate them into their little boxes to be further caricatured. Otto is the heavy-metal loving bus driver, nothing more and nothing less. Until standards and practices lessened up and they could get away with more drug references. SO EDGY.

When Otto calls off the wedding, Becky lives with the Simpsons. For some reason. She really had nowhere else to go? I guess she was living with Otto, but he wouldn’t let her stay? And Marge “breaking them up” didn’t make any sense. I’m all over the map here… The point is that explaining why Becky had no home would have shed some light on the situation and developed her as a character more. Perhaps Marge would have taken pity on her and let her stay, then later regretted it when she found how much she was stepping on her turf. Instead she’s bulldozed by the rest of the family as usual and grows more and more displeased by Becky’s presence each day. A visit to Patty and Selma puts it in her head that Becky intends on killing her and stealing her family away. And Marge believes it. This is just bonkers. Even when Marge acknowledges her sisters are pulling their information from fictional sensationalist movies, she still becomes paranoid about Becky wanting to off her and sleep with her husband. Okay, maybe it could have worked. And that’s a big maybe, but if you lay enough track down for your plot, I can buy it. A big problem in these later seasons is that events happen with barely any or no set-up. Patty and Selma plant the idea in Marge’s head, her brakes get mysteriously cut, and then next thing you know she’s manically attacking Becky with a jagged ice cream cone. That scene is cringe-worthy, like what am I watching here?

Act three is absolute garbage. Marge is put on trial and deemed insane, for no reason whatsoever, and proceeds to escape, triggering a manhunt. How do the rest of the Simpsons react? They appear worried at first, but none of them seem to concerned about it. They spend most of the act sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Shouldn’t they be out trying to find and help their wife/mother? And how long is this hunt going on? It seemed to be no longer than a day, but seems long enough to hit the local news, for Krusty to make a sketch out of it, and for Bart and Homer to talk about how she’s become a local schoolyard legend. None of this shit adds up. And nothing happens in the third act besides Marge finding out Becky was innocent. Or maybe she wasn’t, as Becky reveals that she actually did intend to kill Marge the whole time but got hung up on what kind of shovel to buy. So Marge vocally says because of this, she’s not crazy, and everything turned out okay. It’s maybe not as egregious, but I say this episode is to Marge as “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” was to Mr. Burns; if this is the best they could come up with as a story for her, maybe it’s time to pack it in.

Tidbits and Quotes
– They make a joke about it, sure, but Springfield Elementary is poorer than poor, and yet they could get a camera to each student.
– Nice joke that Otto’s wedding invitations are done out on rolling paper.
– I guess we’re at the point where “Homer does stupid shit for no discernible reason” is fair game, as we see Homer at the kitchen table stabbing his hand with a knife repeatedly. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the fuck that’s about.
– Marge should not be such a wet blanket in this episode. She folds so quickly regarding holding the wedding and then letting Becky stay with them that you don’t feel sorry for her as much as you are annoyed that she’s taking so much shit laying down. Also her meddling with Becky’s affairs seems so wrong for her to do. And thinking Homer is the perfect husband just to set up an awful joke where Homer gets part of his tongue ripped off onto an ice sculpture? …wow, this episode is terrible.
– Becky walks down the completely open aisle. When she unplugs the power, big long electrical chord going across the threshold. I know it seems like I’m nitpicking, but at this point I’m half paying attention to these episodes and I’m still noticing these overt animation errors. Are the people making this show test screening these at all?
– More just shoving characters in scenes. What’s Moe doing at Otto’s wedding? Barney? Grampa and Jasper?
– How the fuck did Homer get the car lifted up on that wicker basket?
– More needless and boring suspense with Marge not being able to brake. Even though they threw in some lame jokes, it still felt so vacuous since you know Becky didn’t do it and also you don’t care.
– The end of the second act is fucking terrible, but it’s got two great bits in it. First the employees being paralyzed by getting eyes full of sprinkles (“I can only see a horrible rainbow!”) And also the line “I know where you live! My house!” I’ve used multiple times with my roommates.
– Wiggum teaching his son to kill people, Homer and Bart seeming to not give two shits Marge is in danger and needs help, the obvious and easy newspaper headline jokes… it’s like I’m watching a totally different show. And I am. I read a great article on the show’s downfall years back, I’d credit it if I could remember it. It said something along the lines of that the classic years would end an episode by having Homer bike off into the sunset with the love of his life, and a later episode ends by having him shoot a tranquilizer dart into her neck. I don’t think there’s much more than needs to be said, do you?
– …one more thing. What the fuck is with the living room being transformed into a gothic dungeon? With cobbled walls and everything? Let’s say that was like some wallpaper, and they got together some working torches, a cutting table and straps, cobwebs, chains, a big cage, all this junk was just lying around somewhere. Even with all of that, what are they doing? Marge is missing and they’re doing this elaborate shoot for Bart’s stupid fucking video? Man, fuck this show. How many seasons I got left?

246. Last Tap Dance in Springfield

(originally aired May 7, 2000)
Another episode where I find myself with not much to say… not so bad in the way that it’s totally bland and not impacting in the slightest, just that I don’t have any specific commentary to dole out. Inspired by a ridiculous (and very amusing) Latin dance film, Lisa decides she wants to take up dancing, but ultimately takes up tap under the tuteledge of famed child actor Little Vicki. Vicki is a pretty good character, playing off of Shirley Temple basically, with a sort of bitter, spiteful streak to her. Like most great adults in Springfield, she isn’t shy or hesitant about belittling young children. She works for what she is, and gets her fair share of laughs (“Turn that frown upside down! …that’s a smile, not an upside down frown. Work on that too!”) There are a couple other isolated moments of greatness, coming from the likes of Chief Wiggum and Professor Frink, but they seem to be few and far between.

This isn’t really a bad episode, but there’s definitely not much here. It feels empty; Lisa wants to pursue dancing like she saw in the film, but ends up in tap basically as a result of a joke. So when she’s no good at it, there’s no real desire for her to continue since she didn’t want to do it in the first place. That’s why they needed to shoehorn the completely out-of-left-field notion that she didn’t want to let her parents down by giving up, when they shower her with praise and call her their “Broadway baby” apropos of nothing. They should have either bore that in earlier in the show, or gave her another reason not to quit. I could be mistaken, but a later episode had Lisa take up ballet when her mother failed at it, so it had an angle of Marge living through her child. I’m sure it was awful, but even that makes more sense than this does.

And now for our big dumb ending. We can’t even have a simple Lisa show without resulting in an over-the-top climax. Professor Frink notices Lisa’ plight and figures he can help; he places a sensor into Lisa’s shoes that will move in reaction to sound, thus she will be able to tap in time with the rest of her class. Now, this… doesn’t make sense. Let’s say that it could work that if Lisa manages to control her own upper body while her feet move of their own accord. But it just becomes more and more of a stretch when she starts doing splits, slides and back flips when Little Vicki tries to outdo her in the performance, then starts going absolutely mental when the audience applauds wildly. This ending just feels way too out of place in what should have been a smaller, more intimate show. So yeah, it’s a pretty average episode slightly tarnished by a ludicrous ending. Oh, there’s also that B-plot of Bart and Milhouse in the mall, but I got nothing to say on that. Amusing at parts, but wholly disposable. You’re telling me there’s not one camera in that whole mall that wouldn’t have picked up the kids’ antics? Only in Springfield…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I really like the Cyborganizer (“I can streamline any procedure, except this thing you call love,”) and Homer’s bemoaning of how the network retooled it so that he’s a single father.
– Homer getting eye surgery is just another excuse to give Castellaneta’s vocal chords a work out. And to have a truly disgusting shot of his eyes crusting over. [shudder]
– Odd that this season we’ve had the only other two characters Yeardley Smith has played, and since her voice is so distinct, they’re both parallels of Lisa. Here, it’s Lisabella, the mousy librarian turned sexy dance star in Tango De La Muerte. It’s full of lots of great bits and lines (“There is just one dance that will beat them: the Tango de la Muerte.” “Only one man was crazy enough to dance that dance, and he is dead! “My twin brother, Freduardo. But where he died, I shall live… in his apartment.”)
– Great sign gag with the Little Vicki dance school, as the motorized pinky into the cheek continues to bore into the metal sign.
– Vicki’s “tappa-tappa-tappa” schtick starts to grow a bit thin, but it’s saved by this line (“Back when I was your age, I had forty three movies under my belt, and I had to do it without tappa-tappa-tappa! I would’ve killed for tappa-tappa-tappa!”)
– For some reason, Allison and Alex Whitney are in the dance class. More of them just shoving characters wherever they like.
– Now, Bart and Milhouse skip out going to camp to hide out at the mall. Then later the mall owner mentions that it’s President’s Day weekend. …okay. Couldn’t they have made it Memorial Day weekend? That would make it a bit closer.
– It’s silly and obvious, but I love the bit with Wiggum and the ACME anvil (“Gosh, that cheese looks good. Think I could grab it before that anvil hits?” “I don’t know, Chief. It’s a million to one.” “I like those odds!”)
– The mall story really has no end. They bring in a mountain lion for some reason to catch a rat, then Bart and Milhouse dissuade it with some yarn. A string hangs from the lion’s mouth, and Lou assumes it’s the rat’s tail, and that’s the end. …okay?
– Love the violent nature of “dimpling” and how cheerful Vicki is about enforcing it on children (“Now this may hurt a lot! What am I saying, ‘may’?”)
– Me and my friends have quoted “Why walk when we can dance!” many times over, it’s just a wonderfully dumb line for this dumb play. Homer is enthralled though (“Where’s Lisa?” “Shhh! This plot is hard enough to follow as it is.”)
– Homer’s been pretty absent here after the eye surgery thing, so we gotta cram in some Jerkass-ness at the end. First in him trampling over Frink’s attempts to cheer Lisa up, then we close on more Homer screaming after he grabs Frink’s weasel weapon. …that sounded unintentionally sexual, I apologize.

245. Kill the Alligator and Run

(originally aired April 30, 2000)
I think at some point, John Swartzwelder noticed the decline of the series or he himself lost interest, and just began punking his fellow writers, and then nobody got the joke. The man responsible for some of the greatest episodes of the series’ prime now has his name attached to some of the worst of these later years. Now either the scripts got completely botched in the rewrites (of which Swartzwelder is not present), or he’s just fucking with us. I kinda feel it to be both; you flip through some of his novellas and you know that not only is he still hysterical, but he is quite partial to over-the-top silliness. So basically I’m not entirely sure who to point the blame for some of these episodes, particularly this one, definitely one of the worst of the entire series. Messy, uninspired, derivative, directionless… I could throw about more negative adjectives, or I could just give you a plot synopsis. I don’t even need to critique that much; just read this shit. It speaks for itself.

Homer is shocked after taking a magazine quiz revealing he only has three more years to live. It’s basically the beginning of “Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” but worse, where we have him become a sleep-deprived insane wreck. A lot of times Homer has acted like a mental patient, but here where he actually is one, it’s just as not funny. The plant psychiatrist suggests he take a sabbatical, and soon the family is off to sunny Florida to get some rest. Unfortunately they’ve arrived during a rowdy spring break bash. Despite him being completely incapacitated prior, Homer is now an insane wannabe party animal, acting as boorish and obnoxious as possible. There’s also a runner of him trying to look cool to today’s youth, another plot string that’s been lifted from a previous episode. When spring break ends, Homer tries to keep the party going and drags his family along with him, but ends up mowing down the beloved town mascot, Captain Jack the gator. Now the family is on the run from the law, and holy shit, we’re not even to act three yet…

So more crazy shit happens… they work at a diner in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, they’re caught and put in a chain gang, end up catering at a fancy high class party for some reason, then try to escape and fail, then the gator’s alive again and they can go. Whatever. What a fucking travesty of an episode. There’s just so much shit in here that makes so little sense it’s frustrating. Why would Homer want to tackle a lost child? Why would the entire family fall asleep while their goddamn car is being pushed by a train? Why does the family become a bunch of hicks for some reason? Why be so complicit with Homer after he’s basically ruined everything? As you may have guessed, there’s no concurrent theme here; it’s like they had four stories lying around and just pieced them together. They attempt to justify that Homer’s exhaustion from partying and subsequent passing out cured his insomnia, but it’s done so haphazardly. This episode doesn’t care about its own rules, or logic, or proper characterization, or humor. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens, but done in the least coherent and least funny way possible. A true landmark of awfulness for the series.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s a swell guy right off the bat giving Flanders a ‘sex test’ and belittling him for all the crying he did. Apparently he forgot that his wife died (“Six months ago. You were at the funeral. You fell into the grave!” “Oh, yeah. I saw a gopher. What a day!”) Fuck Homer.
– I did smirk at the ridiculous set-up for one of Homer’s quizzes (“There’s a black widow at the door, a rattlesnake in the window, and a scorpion on the phone…”)
– Why would Marge recoil in horror after checking Homer’s life expectancy quiz? She shouldn’t be giving it any credence at all.
– More useless guest stars to add to the pile. Was having Charlie Rose and Robert Evans on the show really necessary?
– If nothing else (and really, there is nothing else), this episode gave me the moniker of Florida being “America’s Wang,” which has come in handy since I’ve moved here.
– Do the writers realize when they’ve turned Homer into an asshole, and how it’s really kind of worrying? Act one ends with him helping some rowdy teens flip the car with his wife and children, including an infant, inside. They could have been really hurt. But oh that wacky Homer, so fuuunnnnnyyy…
– I don’t mind Kid Rock and Joe C., they fit perfectly into spring break. It’s just they have no material written for them. They’re just reacting to Homer’s moronic escapades. Homer’s just this comedy imp now, just appearing on stage for no reason to get drunk, then takes the mike and plays for the crowd. Just a drunken idiot raving like a lunatic. That’s our lovable protagonist.
– I did like the bit of Homer attempting to drive without a license, and being surprised that the engine was able to start.
– So the car jumps over the railroad tracks, and stops. We see the car has stopped in frame and it’s still on road. Cut back to the sheriff. Then cut back to the car, which is now on another set of tracks. Fucking lazy. What is happening? And once more, why would the family just fall asleep? Even for Homer this is a stretch. And the conductor wouldn’t have stopped after hitting a vehicle with people inside, let alone wait for many, many hours to do something about it? Fucking bullshit.
– I really don’t even feel like talking about this episode anymore… I can’t really dissect or explain what the hell happens in act three, because it really is just whatever the writers could pull out of their ass. Like there’s this diner literally in the middle of the swamp, that can afford four new employees, and the owner lets them sleep in her trailer. Then they get caught and are sent to prison for a relatively minor misdemeanor. People run down gators all the time. The fact that it was the town mascot, maybe that’s a bit more severe, but still, a jail sentence seems so harsh. And Bart, Lisa and Maggie are in the chain gang! What?! Actually, I did like this exchange (“No listening. You hear me?” “Uh, no.” “You just don’t learn, do you?”) Then later when the family tries to escape, whip guy whips the door shut then whips over a torch creating a ring of fire around them. And the family applauds him for no fucking reason. Then Jack is okay and they’re banned from Florida, and apparently every other state but two, in a fucking stupid ending to a fucking atrocious fucking show. …fuck.