(originally aired February 27, 2000)
After the last few clunkers, this episode is decidedly, and surprisingly, a breath of fresh air. A solid enough story, nice characterization, humorous set pieces and gags, I thoroughly enjoyed a fair amount of this show. The beginning at Duff Days was really fabulous, not only as an opening gag fest, but had a cynical, inappropriate edge that the show does best, from the barbed wire fence holding the non-drinkers and the glorification of getting kids simulatingly drunk. I don’t even mind Homer’s fake fire drill at the beginning; it feels more like a bonehead plan born out of his rampant enthusiasm for the even than him being a total jerk. The highlight of the festival is a bar-tending contest, hosted by the grand reintroduction of Duffman. Introduced right at the edge of Oakley/Weinstein and Scully, Duffman feels like the last classic character, and I absolutely love him here, a bombastic, mindless corporate shill. Some of his best lines come from this episode (“Duffman can’t breathe! Oh no!”)
Moe competes and wins the competition, with the prize of having his face on the new Duff calendar. Put off by his ugly mug, Duff higher-ups release the calendar with multiple stickers on his face. This puts things in perspective for Moe, pondering of whether he’s really that hideous. I feel this characterization of Moe of being this pathetic insecure mess to be pitied has been stretched farther and farther in later seasons, but here it still feels genuine, as you get a fair blend of the innocent and the bitter anger. Moe opts for plastic surgery, which gives him a glorious new handsome visage. What then? Find everyone who wronged him in his past and rub it in their faces, which feels like a true petty thing Moe would do. His last stop is at the local television studio, who turned him down for a soap opera role back in his acting days. And wouldn’t you know, he ends up getting hired for that exact role when he barges in to chew them out! That’s some great timing, huh?
I like the bits we see of “It Never Ends,” but I feel the few bits of what we saw of Springfield’s other soap “Search for the Sun” in the past ripped soaps a whole lot better. It’s later in the third act when the story goes awry. It feels like they wrote themselves to this late point and realized they had to wrap it up and panicked. So Moe gets a delivery in his hands, a book conveniently labeled “Future Plot Lines,” and is shocked to find that they’re killing off his character. To get vengeance, Moe has Homer sabotage the show as an “angel from the future” and reveal the premise of future scripts live on the air. Yeah, live. Why would they broadcast this live? And why would the executives allow it? It just feels like an all-together rushed ending. And while it does make no sense for Moe’s face to turn back to normal after a gigantic wall falls on it, I’m not so bothered by it, since you know he’s going to be back to normal by the end anyway. Perhaps there would have been a better reason for it, but it’s not terrible. So despite some hiccups with the ending, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. A pretty solid episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The Duff Days set piece is everything something like the skiing opener of “Little Big Mom” is not: consistently funny. From the front gates with Surly Duff (“Drink Duff! …responsibly,”) the internment camp-esque Duff Designated Drivers’ Rockin’ Fun Zone (“When we get home, there’s going to be a lot of opened pickle jars,”) surly robot Babe Ruth facing down surly robot Ben Franklin, and a tipsy Bart and Milhouse (“This guy… this is the guy…”) All funny, and on point about the questionable nature of the festival.
– Moe’s other two contestants are perfectly indicative of other bartender stereotypes: Michael Finn, the burly Irishman, and Titania, the Hooters-type waitress with a sizable chest. Or as Moe casually refers to them as, “the Mick and the chick with the rack.” The competition is great as well. Trick pouring easily goes to Titania, who overflows two taps as her natural assets bounce up and down. A quiz round goes to Titania as well, despite her not knowing the answer. By round three, it’s obvious there’s some jury tampering (“You said if I slept with you, I wouldn’t have to touch the drunk!” “Duffman says a lot of things! Oh yeah!”)
– The little runner with the pink elephant balloon is sort of empty, but an amusing time waster. The balloon itself is another great small detail from the fair, and the payoff is pretty good of it ending up at the gay Republican headquarters. Lisa receives a bumper sticker for her efforts (“‘A Gay President in 2084?'” “We’re realistic.”) In all honestly, where we are now, that feels like a little too soon.
– Another slight sore spot in this episode is Homer. Shocking, right? The writers seem to love making him an impulsive madman at this point: stealing money from Moe’s register, throwing a rock through a woman’s window, giddily dousing the soap opera set with kerosene. He’s like a big kid desperate for screen time in another man’s story. Those three instances were basically it, but they stand out as blights to this episode to me.
– Re-use of a classic Dr. Nick joke of anesthetic actually being ‘New Car Smell,’ but slightly saved when the nurse switches the two-option dial over.
– This show has a lot of small jokes that normally fall flat but are great here, like Snake helping his son with his first theft (“That’s my little dude!”)
– I love Castellaneta’s voice for the actor playing Dr. Tad Winslow. So over theatrical. Almost like a more pompous Sideshow Mel. I also love he has an eyepatch tan line on as he removes it for seemingly the only time in his career.
– Nice brief exchange between Lenny and Carl walking to the bar (“So, Lenny, how are things working out between you and that girl next door?” “Eh, it’s over. She got a window shade.”)
– I do like how Moe being on the soap is sort of a call back to when he was a child actor in the Little Rascals. It’s not totally random (“As a child, I was bitten by the acting bug. Then it burrowed under my skin and laid eggs in my heart. Now, those eggs are hatching and… the feeling is indescribable.” “I know what you mean. Our dog had that.”)
– As I said, the ending is dumb, but I like Marge taking notes and that after reading three plot lines, the producer screams that Homer has blown a whole year’s worth of programming. Makes total sense, since soap opera stories drag on, and on, and ooooonnn…