234. Take My Wife, Sleaze

(originally aired November 28, 1999)
To me, there are two different kinds of bad episodes. The first type elicits a great negative response, that the content is fundamentally egregious and terrible; episodes like “Kidney Trouble” or “Blunderdome” are examples of this. But then there are episodes that don’t garner such an angry response, but are filled to the brim with awfulness. This is one of those episodes. Why shows like these go in the latter column are varied, but in the case of this one, as with others, is that I feel that there is a nugget of a good idea buried in here somewhere, but absolutely nothing is done with it. We open with the family going to a retro ’50s diner, a set piece that is wholly disposable, and only needed so we can get Homer on a motorcycle. Bart teaches him to ride it, another useless sequence that makes no sense, and before long, Homer is inspired to form a motorcycle gang, acting like a street punk and being an overall nuisance toward the townspeople and his family.

When we get to seeing Homer, Lenny, Flanders and others standing out front of the Kwik-E-Mart flipping pennies, I have to wonder just exactly what the fuck is going on in this episode. Is this Homer trying to live out a cool life he’s seen on TV? For what purpose? I don’t know. The plot turns when it’s revealed Homer has accidentally named his gang after an existing biker troupe, who are none too happy about it. As retribution, they crash at the Simpson house, making it a total filthy wreck. Now part of me kind of likes this idea; I love John Goodman as leader Meathook, and Henry Winkler giving a more subdued performance as his right hand man Ramrod. Some of their reads are genuinely funny (“Mrs. Simpson! I killed my pencil!” “Broke. You broke your pencil.” “I… broke him.”) But it takes so long to get to this point, almost the halfway mark. The diner, teaching Homer to bike, Homer’s dumb gang antics, all of this worthless material that could have been shaved down to move the story along.

Things come to a head when the bikers leave and take Marge with them, but ultimately she ends up nurturing them, helping them write their resumes and to use words instead of violence. Then Homer comes out of nowhere and starts beating the crap out of everyone. Now, here’s where I see the fleeting potential. If they had built up Marge’s relationship with the bikers a bit more, and expanded this a bit further, it could have been kind of neat. She reforms them into model citizens, and meanwhile we could have seen Homer getting increasingly more rash and angrier searching for his wife. In the end, he’s a total monster, beating the shit out of the now docile bikers. A nice role reversal. But instead, they revert back to their old selves so them can have a showdown. A showdown that ends with them swordfighting with fucking motorcycles. For God’s sake… So, yeah, as I said, almost nothing in this episode works at all, but I still don’t hold as much ire toward it as other truly terrible shows. Rather than blinding rage, it’s more of a groan of disappointment. Uggh…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like the opening with the Guinness World Records show. It’s not so much a parody as it is an accurate depiction of what it was.
– Some of the newspaper headline regalia at the diner is pretty great (Study: Teens Rarely Pregnant, We All Agree: Conformity Is Best).
– The scene with Jay North is kind of neat, I guess. Matt Groening told a story of watching the Dennis the Menace show, and being ramped up at seeing the little hellion he was in the animated opening title sequence, and being disappointed that the show never lived up to that level of mischief. So Bart acts as Groening here, completely disinterested in the genuine article. North’s a great sport.
– The Alan Gins-burger and Polio Dog have nothing on the Eyeball Stew and Baby Guts from “Itchy & Scratchy Land.”
– I guess Homer and Marge’s ridiculous dance routine kind of parodies the resurgence of bombastic swing music, but it feels kind of uncomfortable seeing Homer swing Marge by her hair. That must hurt. Also it’s not funny. That also hurts.
– I do like Bart laughing at his father not knowing how to ride a bike, then graciously accepts his request for him to teach him. But the montage itself is garbage. Homer’s pants and shirt get caught up in the chain, the motorcycle slips up and has enough momentum to fly up and crash into the Simpson roof, just a bunch of shit that makes no sense whatsoever, but hey, who cares, it’s a cartoon, right?!
– I hate everything about Homer’s gang, except for Moe suggesting their name be the Christ Punchers, and Flanders’ flustered response (“I don’t think you understand my objection…”)
– There’s a lot of neat animation in this episode, particularly with Meathook bursting through the Simpson house on his bike and riding up onto Homer and Marge’s bed.
– Part of me feels it’s just too much of how dumb the bikers are, but that kind of makes it absurd in a good way. Goodman and Winkler’s reads also help it (“Haven’t any of you ever had a dream?” “Yeah, I had a dream! I was in this beautiful garden, pounding the crap out of a shopkeeper!” “No, no, I mean the dream of a good job, a loving family, and a home in the suburbs.” “Aw, man, to get all that you’d have to kill, like, fifty people!”)
– Lot of weird out-of-place sex references in this episode too: Homer telling his kids to order a Korean love bride, the bikers wanting to bring Marge to an orgy… just doesn’t feel right.
– I kind of like the bit where Homer keeps getting thrown out of the tough guy bar (“Some people never learn.”) But I also love me some NRBQ.
– Honestly, I’m still reeling from Maggie pulling Homer to shore two episodes ago, but now not only do we have Homer and Meathook holding up motorcycles and using them as swords, but Marge manages to throw one up to her husband to use. I mean, seriously, this is way too far. Don’t give me this bullshit, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re not that kind of cartoon, it doesn’t fit here.

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3 responses to “234. Take My Wife, Sleaze

  1. I’ve been looking forward to this particular review, because I remember that this episode was somewhat of a milestone for me back in 1999. I had noticed a steady decline the past couple of seasons, but while watching the godawful motorcycle swordfight, I realized for the first time that the show truly does suck. I don’t believe I even bothered to watch the following week’s episode (another first).

  2. I actually wasn’t so bothered by this episode; it’s aggressively stupid but at the time the way it flowed together, even with the ridiculous motorcycle fight, didn’t phase me. In retrospect that’s certainly egregious, but their retarded little motor cycle gang and “hell satans” made me laugh a lot (I feel like they do that kind of joke a lot more as zombie simpsons went on.

  3. Odddly enough I enjoyed this one. The motor bike swordfight at the time was so ridiculous it was funnyk, as was “when I kill you I’m gonna take your wallet!”

    Ditto with flanders and co on everything from a pushbike to a motor mower and Flanders saying “we can use my rumpus room”, I also like the chief’s “looking like a pig as I do” comment and the biker’s note.

    I don’t know why but there is a sort of innocent, we’re clearly having fun vibe about this one which I always really liked. It didn’t feel stupid for the sake of stupid the way some things like Maggy dragging Homer to sure or yes, those awful Jocky elves did. Of course, had I known where the slide was going after this one, i’d probably have viewed the crazy in this episode with a bit more ire, but as it stands this one still gets a pass from me on fun alone, since at least the jokes were funny and the crazy did something more than just be there for it’s own sake.

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