241. Missionary: Impossible

(originally aired February 20, 2000)
I guess at some point I’m just going to have to accept this show is just another cartoon now. I throw that term around a lot, and let it be known, I am in no way decrying cartoons. It’s all about context; I don’t expect to see an episode about sleazy public figures or marital spats on Dexter’s Laboratory, and nor do I expect to see superstrong babies or mythical creatures on The Simpsons. And yet, I have, and the series shows no signs of getting any less ridiculous and wacky. But I just can’t go along for the ride; I’m not saying the show has to be firmly grounded in reality all the time, it never was, but if you’re going to make that reach, at least have it make a little bit of sense, or at least be funny. The show manages to do neither. Take the lead-in with this one, where Homer makes a phony pledge to PBS to get them to stop interrupting programming with a pledge drive. When he’s exposed for not having the money, he’s chased by an angry mob, consisting of Mr. Rogers, Yo Yo Ma, Teletubbies who shoot fucking lasers, and Big Bird, who flies in like a hawk. I mean, this is like Family Guy shit. It’s ironic that the writers would take a shot at them at the end of the show, considering that at this point, the series isn’t that much worse than them. Man, I never thought I would say that…

Reverend Lovejoy assists Homer in his escape from PBS, in exchange for acting as a missionary on the small island of Microatia. Now, bizarre set-up aside, I don’t think this premise makes much sense from a story point of view. Homer the missionary? What’s the point, other than to have him engage in wacky antics and berate the natives? Maybe if he had been paired up with Flanders, who proceeds to curry the favor of the people, and Homer out of jealous attempts to one-up them, and the two egos get the best of each other in the end. That might have been interesting, and made more sense as a basis of a show. Here, it’s just silly and pointless storytelling. He builds them a casino for reasons that escape me, which ends up backfiring, and then he goes back to finishing off the chapel. Which turns into a big disaster and then we have our PBS ending, which feels like less of a clever callback than just a cheap cop-out. It really honestly seems like the writers are caring less and less about these episodes being somewhat meaningful or having a point. Just throw in a bunch of wacky shit, and we’re good.

Back home, the rest of the Simpsons keep in touch with Homer via ham radio, which Marge seems to know how to use, and is able to get reception from where what must be on the other side of the planet. Also it’s daytime in both places during their call. But who cares, right? Homer makes Bart the man of the house, which of course means that now he has to go into work for him. And Lenny, Carl, and Burns can’t tell that it’s a kid. This stuff just really aggravates me, and departs the series even further from the reality it once was in, if that were even possible. You’re telling me Burns doesn’t realize he’s talking to a ten-year-old? Lenny and Carl have met Homer’s son, they don’t recognize him? I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did, they just thought it’d be funny if Bart actually acted like the “man of the house.” Doesn’t Bart have school? How did he get to the power plant? Why would Marge put up with this bullshit? Doesn’t matter. None of this matters. I’m getting a headache. We’re done here.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like pretty much everything before the mob chase: “Do Shut Up” being England’s longest running series (“And today, we’re showing all seven episodes,”) the pledge gifts of a tote bag, and an umbrella with a picture of the tote bag, and Betty White, who gives a great performance (“If you watch even one second of PBS and don’t contribute, you’re a thief. A common thief!”) I also like Homer’s contentment with thinking he’d get away with his anonymous contribution, then being hoisted by his own petard (“Ohh, why did I register with Insta-Trace!”)
– Lovejoy’s pretty good for the little screen time he has, wishing he had never taught Homer the word “sanctuary,” and this great runner (“Please help me, I’ll do anything! I’ll light a candle! I’ll help with your next charity scam!” “The word is drive.” “Sure, sure, Bob’s your uncle, let’s just get out of here!”)
– If nothing else, I can credit this episode with giving us the word “Jebus.”
– More dumb cartoony shit with the butterfly burrowing into Homer’s arm and crawling about his body. It’s like the penny thing in “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” but even more disgusting.
– I do kind of like the native girl Lisa, Jr., though I wish her relationship with Homer had been played up a bit more, acting as Lisa’s surrogate whose presence makes Homer want to do a good job in helping the natives. That’s sort of the case, but not really.
– It’s a small line, but I hate when Bart cuts off Homer’s nonsensical diatribe to ask him if he’s been licking toads. Like, why would Bart even know about that, let alone think to ask his father that question? To make the joke work, of course. Never mind that none of this sounds like actual dialogue a real person would say, we need to set up and pay off our clunky material.
– I fucking hate his scene, but I do like Burns’ outrage that Homer apparently sold plutonium to the Iraqis, with no mark-up.
– This whole thing’s a cartoon now. They built that whole casino, and roulette wheel and everything? And later one of them holds up actual playing cards, which came from God knows where. Although through all of it, I liked the idea of Homer making his own beer, which to me feels like a call-back to “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.”
– I like this token Homer line (“Well, I may not know much about God, but I have to say we built a pretty nice cage for Him.”)
– The pledge ending feels like a cop-out, like I said, but I do like the idea of it, and seeing all the other FOX stars waiting for your call, including Hank Hill, Bender, Thurgood Stubbs from The PJ’s, and of course Rupert Murdoch. And I do love the shot at Family Guy, but honestly, this show should not be throwing stones at “crude, low-brow programming” considering what I’ve been watching for the last two seasons.

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17 responses to “241. Missionary: Impossible

  1. This is the kind of episode I should hate, but don’t. Firstly, it’s too damn funny, and also, I actually think the main story is pretty solid. I mean, it’s almost like it’s just so wacky and out-there for the whole thing, it actually feels somewhat coherent. Whilst other episodes in the past two seasons have just shoved wacky and stupid resolutions in our faces after ‘normal’ episodes, this is just wacky from the start, and I just view it as a “wacky” episode.

    Perhaps that’s why I don’t mind it. Who knows. I just find it entertaining.

  2. Yep, horrible indeed. This is a perfect example of why TV shows aren’t meant to last 11 seasons (let alone 23); there’s only so much you can do, and then you run out of ideas. The writers have clearly run out of ideas at this point, so they’re trying to throw as much shit at the wall as possible, hope it generates a few laughs and hope you won’t notice.

    That’s my only excuse for the Scully era. He was in an impossible situation because TV shows aren’t meant to last that long to begin with. With that said, they didn’t need to become so outrageous and unbelievable, and their inability to tell a coherent story is appalling. There’s also an over-reliance on physical humor (this episode has Bart with a giant stone in his mouth, ha ha), and the humor is only surface deep at this point (whereas the humor used to be like an onion, many layers). It’s a bad show, but at least at this point it’s interestingly bad. In a couple of seasons it would simply become forgettably bad (up until you get to That 90s Show, at which point authorities will have to restrain me from attacking the people who wrote that episode, kidding of course).

    • “(this episode has Bart with a giant stone in his mouth, ha ha)”

      I think you’re thinking of Simpson Safari, which is a far worse episode than this.

  3. People always complain of Family Guy ripping off The Simpsons, but at least Family Guy established itself as a show where humor is the main priority and the characters are just exaggerated cartoons. The Simpsons ground itself in realism at the beginning, which is what made it stand out and it’s what made it so good. That makes it all the more disappointing when they do “wacky” episodes. Family Guy can be hit or miss, but I’d gladly watch it over Zombie Simpsons because at least they aren’t ruining something great. Zombie Simpsons has always tried to emulate the success of Family Guy and it shows in the changed humor style.

    • Exactly. FG has never pretended to be anything different than what it is, and that’s why it is such a great show IMO. Once the writers realized what style they wanted to use, they stuck to it. The shot at Family Guy, especially in 2000, is/was gratuitous and spiteful. Really funny because at the time, FG was everything that The Simpsons used to be, just a little more crude.

      I always felt like Mike underrated Family Guy too much. He should at least watch the first three seasons and change his stance on the show as a whole because at one point, it was miles ahead of The Simpsons.

      • No really. Family Guy underrated? Its impossible underrate something that have no substance. It can be funny, but only like a random youtube video one watches whens bored. I watched enough of the first 4 seasons, and there are no characters and no fascinating stories; and dont come up with random examples, I watched every of those so-called great episodes, but even at its best Family Guy had one the most banal, dull and trivial writing of their era (Zombie Simpsons joined them later, for sure).
        Anyway, reading your thought: “FG was everything that The Simpsons used to be, just a little more crude.”, just made me realize that you wont understand nothing of what i d say, and that you surely never understood The Simpsons.

      • Well, that’s your opinion and I respect that, but I understand everything you just said. At one point, Family Guy USED to be everything The Simpsons was. They USED to be able to deconstruct the everyday family sitcom while doing it in a harsher and ruder way. A season two episode is almost innocent compared to a season twelve episode. In “There’s Something About Paulie,” Peter learns that he can’t make all the decisions and Lois’ opinion means just as much as his opinion does. In “The King is Dead,” Peter realizes that had it not been for Lois, he would have never found his creative outlet. “Let’s Go to the Hop” shows that at one point, Peter would do anything for Meg. He was very misguided and never made the most sensible decision, but once he realized he was wrong, he couldn’t live with himself and tried to fix it. You have to look into the episodes deeper because at one point, they actually were meaningful.

        You watched the first four seasons and you still don’t like it? Good for you, but it’s not your show. And I understand The Simpsons just like you do. How is this: A deconstruction of the family sitcom that shows a working-class family in a one-horse town. The series follows their adventures and misadventures. It was the funniest thing on television at one point, but was also emotionally deep. At the end of the day, the Simpsons loved each other despite being at each other’s throats from time to time. I guess I’m in the ballpark now.

  4. I find this episode entertaining, with a pretty interesting concept and some good jokes. Still, I don’t find myself watching it at all. If it’s in syndication, I skip it. I kinda put it in the same mind-file as things like the jockey elves episode… good for one watch to see the absurdity of it all, but after you get through it, there’s really no replayability to any of it. Whereas older episodes — season 1 episodes, even — can be watched infinite number of times, and you always catch new jokes and gags and you see some episodes in different ways, to make a vague point I don’t feel like explaining right now.. you get my drift. this episode can only be seen one way, and from one watch.. just a bizarro drug-fueled and odd (though not nearly as odd as the Homer-as-Mr.-X blowdart-in-neck episode; I think that’s coming soon isn’t it?) episode. I’m glad it exists but I would rather they do a 1 minute short of an episode that’s actually infinitely rewatchable.

  5. This episode is bad but it’s the kind of bad where I go “I’m not watching this” and it somehow doesn’t hurt as much as episodes with just a real stupid end or violently pissing on the backstories of established characters. It’s bad, bland, and since I can pick it out easily enough I never have to worry about watching it.

  6. Not a very good episode, but I LOVE the jabs at PBS and British TV (“IF they’re not having a go at a bird, they’re having a row at a wanker!” “Cheeky!”)

  7. Revisiting series 11 I think the appearance of the lazer-shooting Teletubbies and the Sesame Street characters was the point where I thought it was here that the show went off the deep end. Episodes were never realistic but in the early ones they made some kind of ‘sense’ and seemed to work.
    I had Beyond Blunderdome from this series on another DVD and quite liked it. I had no idea the show had got that bad that early until discovering when each episode was first shown. In the UK we have the usual complete series-by-series on DVD but also these value compilation titles of typically 4 episodes per disc- usually on a particular theme- usually two or three early ‘classics’ get thrown in with an ‘inferior’ later one.

  8. The first act is one of the funniest first acts in the Scully era (“Yeah, it’s a real ghost town in there!”), but unfortunately things go way downhill once Homer arrives in Microasia.

    And while I get that the ending was a parody of when PBS would interrupt a show to do more telethon begging, how about an actual ending? We never do find out how Homer got out of that seemingly inescapable situation. It really felt like the writers wrote themselves into a corner. Either that, or they didn’t care and were telling us to screw ourselves. Or both.

    As mind-numbingly awful as the ending to “She Used to Be My Girl” was (which had a similar set-up: Someone about to fall into hot lava), at least it actually -had- an ending.

  9. This episode’s okay for me because I guess compared to other crap season 11 produced, this actually made me laugh (Although compared to the previous episode, anything looks good.).

  10. I have to say actually, I remember the first act to be pretty funny. Yeah the chase scene was dumb, but it gave me the phrase “it’s a beautiful day to KICK YOUR ASS!!!” Also the “SANCTUARY!!” and the coining of the word “Jebus.” Act’s 2 and 3 were pretty mediocre.

  11. Here’s a plot whole I could never get past with this episode: why WASN’T the bank closed? Most PBS telethons are held on the weekend. Banks are typically only open until noon on Saturdays and are closed all day on Sundays. Since Homer likes to sleep in on weekends, it’s probably safe to assume he’s watching in the afternoon, when the bank should be closed.

    Anyway, a couple things I liked in this episode that weren’t mentioned:
    – While I didn’t like that Homer was ready to kill the PBS hosts (with a pen, no less), the moment was saved by Betty White’s nonchalant attitude about it. (“You don’t have the money, do you? And you thought you could just stab your problems away?”)
    – The PBS mascot chase was beyond silly, I did love Oscar the Grouch and Elmo being thrown into the church. (“Give us the money!” “Elmo knows where you live.”)
    – One nice thing about this episode compared to many ZS episodes is Homer at least realizes he’s done wrong and tries to fix things. I love the exchange when the villagers see him building the chapel by himself. (“Why are you doing this?” “Because you’re all terrible sinners.” “Since when?” “Since I got here.”)

    As for why Bart would ask if Homer was licking toads, I figured it was one of two reasons:
    1) Bart learned about licking exotic toads from one of the kids in school (probably Nelson).
    2) Homer’s done this before.

  12. The Anonymous Nobody

    If I could choose one episode to describe all the problems with Mike Scully’s run as showrunner, this would be at the top of the list.

    Around this time, it seriously felt like the show was just doing whatever it could think of to stay fresh. Things like Homer actually getting harassed by PBS characters, Bart just going to work at the power plant without anybody realizing they’re talking to a little boy……….the absurdity is just way too much since there’s nothing realistic to ground it. It’s just Homer donating money he doesn’t have, then getting sent to do missionary work after the fucking Teletubbies shoot lasers at him and Elmo threatens to come to his house to collect the money. The shot at Family Guy wasn’t even that funny because at this time, the show was a lot better than The Simpsons and was doing a really good job mixing the absurd stuff with the heartfelt stuff. Of course, in 2017, FG is beyond saving but back then, it was a lot more entertaining than The Simpsons.

    I don’t know why they just started having the characters do whatever wacky thing they came up with. One of the best things about The Simpsons was that it was rooted in reality, and even when things started going off the rails, the characters still felt human. Homer doesn’t even feel like a human being in this episode. Just some wacky cartoon character going on zany adventures all the time. By trying to rely on the nonsense and the absurdity, the heart and soul of The Simpsons was slowly ripped out as the 1990s ended and the 2000s was on the rise.

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