237. Faith Off

(originally aired January 16, 2000)
Some of these episodes are getting harder and harder to write about… I liked a few parts of this show, and the core idea is something that could have worked… maybe, but by the third act basically everything collapses into empty tension and stupidity. A lot of it just felt very vacuous, over all. Anyway, we start with Homer returning to Springfield University for an alumni party, which is dangerous territory, given inevitable comparison to one of the greatest episodes ever, “Homer Goes to College.” The nerds return, but feel more like generic nerd characters than they did before. Dean Peterson is gone and replaced with an actual crusty old dean, and having Homer’s hatred and pranking of him actually be justified is a lot less funny than him being misguided. This is one of the first times the show has attempted to go back to the well, mining old characters and set pieces to try and either have lightning strike twice or get petty recognition points from viewers. It would get more egregious as time went on, but here it’s not so terrible, since it’s only part of the first act. It’s more a harbinger than anything else.

Homer’s prank backfires and he ends up with a bucket glued to his head, with no hope for removal. His salvation comes when the family winds up at the service of Brother Faith, a bombastic faith healer who claims he can expel Satan’s hold from the afflicted. He has Bart remove the bucket from his father’s head, and informs him that he has “the power.” Bart takes this to heart, and starts his own faith healing charade in his backyard. I felt this story would have worked a lot better starting smaller, than building. Like have his sermons just be for the kids, then expand into gullible adults. It kind of does this with Bart using his new “skills” at the schoolyard, but then right after that he does some kick boxing moves in church and everyone (even Flanders) wildly applauds. Next thing you know everyone’s going to Bart’s “church,” leaving Lovejoy a shepard without a flock once more. If the show really wanted to be about faith healing, why not make it more about Lovejoy’s response to this more upbeat, in-your-face sermonizing? The title of the show is “Faith Off,” after all, and it would have made more sense. …nah, let’s not do that.

The third act takes place at the college football game between Springfield U and Springfield A&M, in an attempt to bridge both “plots.” Homer has decided to make a homecoming float, of his own accord for some reason, but ends up getting drunk while driving it onto the field and mowing down the star player. Pretty irresponsible behavior, right? Is he arrested? Punished? Nah. He’s also sober by the next scene, when Fat Tony randomly appears, who has money on the game, wanting retribution. Homer hopes to wiggle out of his by having Bart attempt to “heal” the athlete. I guess it’s supposed to be a sweet moment when Bart says he’ll do it for his dad, but when Homer caused the problem to begin with and is using his son to get him out of it, you don’t feel so bad for Homer as much as you start to get pissed off at him. The episode ends in such a ridiculous fashion that it almost becomes funny (so close…) and cuts to credits on a dull, groaner line. This one’s got a bit of a leg up (ha ha ha…) on “Little Big Mom” for having a few good lines and ideas, but ultimately feels just as disposable.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do like Benjamin’s enthusiasm of his contribution to society: a device that downloads Internet porn a million times faster. Homer is very appreciative.
– One of the only bright spots in this show is Springfield U’s “all-American” kicker Anton Lubchenko, football all-star with a Communications major (“Is phony major! Lubchenko learn nothing! Nothing!”)
– The twist of a bucket of glue already being over the Dean’s door, and no one noticing it, is pretty dumb, but I think it still works. It was those rascals from Kappa Gamma Tau (“Last in grades, first in pranks!”)
– It really doesn’t make much sense that Hibbert can’t remove the bucket. Again, he’s becoming less and less of a professional each episode he’s in. I do like the horrifying squish noise made when Bart permeates Homer’s eye with a drill, and also the animation of Homer’s limited POV driving and ending up in a ditch (“That had nothing to do with the bucket.”)
– Don Cheadle gives an energetic performance as Brother Faith, he did a pretty great job. My favorite part is when he searches for a “holy helper” to assist Homer (“Someone who believes!”) Turn to Lisa, who emphatically says no. Faith recovers, “Okay, movin’ on!” and goes over to Bart. I also love how violent he is in helping Cletus (“I done sprained my elby-bone, so it goes in the oppositty direction”) and Krusty, who gets his comedy “K’s” back (“King Kong cold-cocked Kato Kaelin! Hey, you Gentiles are alright!”)
– More brain dead Homer as he draws flip books of Moe in a hula skirt, and when Lisa tells him to think of something school-related for his float, he draws Superman fighting Godzilla. Homer’s funnier when he’s dim, not mentally disabled.
– “Testify” is an alright song, I guess. It fits the atmosphere of the scene and has a nice rhythm to it. But it certainly can’t stand up to some of the greats of the show’s past. It was used as the title song of the third album they put out of all the songs from seasons 11-on, and you can certainly hear the difference in quality if you want to venture and give it a listen.
– There’s a really awkward joke delivered by Milhouse at the start of the third act (“This cast is real itchy, and I tried to scratch and the fork got stuck in there and I think there was some food on the fork.”) Then we see ants climbing into his cast. It’s such a clumsy and lengthy line read for such a minor joke. We’d see plenty more of those in the future.
– Nice bit with Brockman’s frustration at his nephew repeatedly using “fever” in his report, having lost his thesaurus (“In preparation for the big game, Springfield Stadium has caught additional seating capacity fever.”)
– I like Captain McAllister approaching Bart to help him, but being turned away, having to look elsewhere to ease his crippling depression. Bart is surprised (“Man, and I thought he had it all.”)
– Homer somehow manages to build a gigantic float that has a working mechanical arm on top of it. How did he manage that? Also, I think the joke of his float being offensive and grotesque would have worked a lot better if the actual Springfield U float didn’t feature a public hanging of their rival’s mascot.
– Part of me does like how stupid the ending is; that shot of the dismembered leg flying in to kick the ball again over the goal post is so ridiculous. But why oh why would Hibbert not attempt to recover the leg? Why is he becoming as incompetent as Dr. Nick these days?

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10 responses to “237. Faith Off

  1. Great writeup. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head with this season, because a lot of the episodes DO have good concepts and there still are good lines and jokes here and there if you really look, and some of the characters still feel like their old selves, but everything else is changing… it’s kinda like everything is falling apart before our eyes. I think a lot of season 11 episodes are still memorable and likeable enough, but there is definitely just something amiss here…

  2. zuh? Aloha Moe was funny. Otherwise I agree.

  3. This is one of those episodes where I *know* I’ve seen it, but it’s weak and boring and I cannot remember it. I remember seeing little big mom a lot for some reason, but even though I watched something like 4 episodes of simpsons a night in syndication around this time, this one never stuck for me.

  4. “Some of these episodes are getting harder and harder to write about..”
    I told you this would happen!! I felt bad with you ending season 9, knowing you only had crappier and crappier episodes ahead…
    Nevertheless, thank you for writing about these episodes anyway. I find it fascinating to read, episode by episode, your analyses of the devolution of this iconic show. You put into words very eloquently the reasons why the show’s calibre of jokes started changing, and the characterizations became muddled. I am bad at analysing things that way, and could only ever explain it to my friends in ways like “this episode just felt wrong”. “That episode wasn’t fucking funny”. “I was disappointed because the episode idea sounded cool until I watched it”. But you really explain WHY. And also point out the (ever decreasing) parts that did work. I salute you!

  5. I think the thing I find most frustrating about the later episodes is the loss of such great characters. The Simpsons, et al, just dont act like the ‘people’ I used to know and love. From fully fledged yet flawed (albeit cartoon) humans with nuanced performances, they became these weird, constantly wide-eyed robots. Homer in particular used to be so lovable, mostly well-meaning and ultimately was a character you felt empathy for. Now you just wanna mow him over with a lawnmower. (In your wife’s Sunday best of course)

  6. The Glory of Being a Clown

    Bury me at Make-out Creek.

  7. Things I liked in this episode:
    – This is one of the very few times you’ll hear Flanders criticize Lovejoy. “Daddy, is he killing that guitar?” “Yes, son.”
    – Bart: “Hmm… I would think God would want to LIMIT my power.”
    – During the climax, Homer glances over to see Fat Tony casually eating a hot dog. Tony notices it and quickly pulls his knife back out with a threatening look.

  8. Actually there is quite a bit I liked in this one. Lubchenco, Bart’s realizing he doesn’t actually have powers but getting things right anyway, i also really like the scene of Lovejoy in an empty church playing to just the flanders family saying “lets fight razle with dazle!” pulling out a guitar which he fails to tune for Tod to say to NEd “Is he killing that guitar daddy?” and Ned’s wonderfully quiet and ominous reply “Yes son”

    And Bart’s “I’m going for the presto changeo Deathbed redemption angle”

    Oddly enough i remember this one fairly fondly, despite it having a lot of stupid homer moments and being a premise that they shouldn’t really have tried with Bart, then again when they tried it on several occasions with Homer like that dreadful Israil episode it was a thousand times worse so hay.

  9. I liked this joke, when Homer’s grilling:

    Lisa: “Do we have any food that wasn’t brutally slaughtered?”
    Homer: “Well, I think the veal might have died of loneliness.”

  10. We should probably add Dr. Hibbert to the Zombie casualty list here (if not a few appearances earlier). Once a trusted physician with a penchant for chuckling, often at inappropriate moments, he is now a dangerous quack, different from Dr. Nick only by virtue of a thin veil of respectability comprised past memories of competence and a lack of an Eastern European accent.

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