254. The Computer Wore Menace Shoes

(originally aired December 3, 2000)
Where “Homer vs. Dignity” perfectly displayed how characterization has completely gone to shit, this episode does the very same to proper and sensible storytelling. So far we’ve seen a bumper crop of insane and absolutely dreadful plot twists. An impromptu trip to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster. Homer and chums get their ship attacked by pirates. Jockeys revealed to be actual elves. But no episode comes even close to the ridiculous and insulting third act we have here. It’s absolute insanity, and just one more giant leap away from anything even slightly resembling reality from this show. We start with Homer finally entering the digital age and getting his very own computer, but because he’s a big dummy, he has no idea how to use it. Whether he’s dragging his new desktop behind his car or somehow believing it has the power for murder his neighbor, this show is full of cringe-worthy Homer moments. He even comes up with his own web page, which is completely full of ripped-off animated gifs and sound bites. Annoying, but it’s one of the few things here I buy Homer would do.

To get more hits on his home page, Homer tries his hand at guerrilla journalism, exposing the questionable doings and misdoings of the citizens of Springfield. The story so far actually isn’t too shoddy, but every single scene is just Homer either being brain dead, inconsiderate, or just a completely selfish dickhead. His anonymous moniker “Mr. X” is eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize for God knows why, but as his identity is unknown, it’s decided the cash prize will go toward starving children. Homer freaks out and insists that he’s Mr. X. I mentioned this in the last review; that bit was bad enough, but they even follow it up in the next scene with Marge (“I do feed bad about the starving children.” “They’re with God now.”) As he’s counting his money. Honestly, are the writers just trying their hardest to make Homer a flaming asshole? When he finds he can’t perform espionage as well now that he’s outed himself, Homer starts making up stories for his site, with one lie in particular that lands him in some hot water. Which leads us to our third act…

Homer is kidnapped and winds up on a mysterious island, with other prisoners who are known only by number. They’re kept there because they “know too much,” and Homer finds that his bullshit about flu shots being used for mind control was actually true. While he’s stuck and being gassed repeatedly, a decoy Homer with a thick German accent is sent to the Simpson home to keep the family none the wiser. Now… what can I possibly say to this. This whole act is apparently a parody of The Prisoner, an old TV series I’ve never seen, and something the writers seem to hide behind when it comes to criticism of this episode, that people just don’t get the reference. Well, one, that’s a poor ass excuse, because a reference should work on its own even if you don’t know the source, and two, the parody should make sense within the show’s universe. Where the fuck is this island? Who is the organization running it? Who do they work for? What are their plans, and to what end? Why do they continually gas Homer? Why do the Simpsons accept the fake Homer when he’s clearly a fake? What the fuck is happening? It’s just so much bullshit and nonsense crammed in at the very end; as if the episode wasn’t awful enough, here’s the worst, most disjointed and out-of-left-field third act in the show’s entire history. Plain and absolute shit.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Lenny and Carl are just driving past the plant together on their day off. Really, I liked it better when they were just casual chums who were Homer’s work mates and drinking buddies. They have separate lives. Or not, I guess. Next season we’ll see Lenny’s masterpiece Mount Carlmore. Which now that I read it like that also could double for a sex joke, alluding to their questionable sexuality. Goddammit, later seasons…
– Oh, and more feeble Burns with him fumigating the plant with a bug bomb. Seriously, why is he doing this?
– Quality moments are few and far between here, and that’s being generous. I like the Springfield Police Department website (“If you’ve committed a crime, and want to confess, click ‘Yes.’ Otherwise, click ‘No.’ You have chosen ‘No,’ meaning you’ve committed a crime, but don’t want to confess. A paddy wagon is now speeding to your home. While you wait, why not buy a police cap or T-shirt? You have the right to remain fabulous!”)
– What is with the bit with Bart confessing to carrying switchblades, assaulting cops and getting suspended? And he says he’s “just mad all the time,” then the very next scene he’s happily getting himself some cookies and milk. Just more bullshit scenes placed together with no rhyme or reason as to what happened before them.
– I don’t know if I’m just actively seeking out sex jokes because they’re becoming so common, but Comic Book Guy is scouring through porn sites, like Lady Triple-X, then comes across “Mr. X.” He ponders, and finally decides to “cross the final frontier.” Like, he’s gotten off to every porn site there is, now he figures he’ll give the other team a shot. Am I reading too much into the line? Because I actually thought it was amusing in that regard. And also the classic “There is no emoticon for what I am feeling!”
– Ah, the days you could make jokes about selling uranium to Middle Eastern terrorists (“You are a credit to the great Satan!” “Oh, pshaw!”)
– Don’t know why people couldn’t figure out who Mr. X was, considering the gag earlier of Homer’s picture loading quicker than the bag over his head on the site. Maybe Comic Book Guy has a particularly slow computer, as we’ve seen before.
– Absolutely terrible scene of a fever-stricken Todd calling out for his dead mother. One of the most tasteless things I’ve ever seen on a television show.
– The fake Kwik-E-Mart bit is awful. We see the concrete siding to the left of the building, then later we see it was all in the back of a truck. Where the fuck was the truck? It wasn’t there! You could’ve hid it better, but they apparently could care less.
– Just quick observations about the third act, because I just want to wipe it from my memory: the writers seemed to love seeing Homer get gassed, it makes no fucking sense why any of the Simpsons would put up with the fake Homer, and we’ve got real Homer stealing the escape raft that took another prisoner decades to build. He shoves him out of the way and takes off with it, after he said it can fit two people. Again, this is our fucking protagonist. Why are they going to such great lengths to make me want to punch him in the face?


13 responses to “254. The Computer Wore Menace Shoes

  1. As a huge fan of The Prisoner, let me be the first to say: “This episode is terrible, Prisoner parody or not.” I understood everything that was being referenced, but there wasn’t really any satire or development stemming from it. It was like seeing a parody in the vein of “Epic Movie.” The gassing was taken from the opening of the series, in which the protagonist Number 6 was gassed in his home before he was transported to the Village. It wasn’t used repeatedly as it was in this episode. That’s like having Borat say “Very nice!” over and over again.

    There were two clever jokes, though. Number 6’s reason for being in the Village was never explained throughout the entire series’ run, so the bottomless peanut bag was funny. Not because I find bottomless peanut bags hilarious, but because the idea that his imprisonment was caused by something so trivial. The “security bubble” being easily destroyed by a plastic fork was also great, because it was such a creepy threat in the actual show. “Why did you think a big balloon would stop people?” “Shut up, that’s why!” is a nice exchange.

  2. One thing to consider with these episodes is that back in 2000, Family Guy was getting its start and South Park was becoming a cultural phenomenon. In other words, I think the writers were trying to keep up with the joneses. Those shows were “risky” and so the Simpsons decided they needed to be as well. Hence, you get Homer acting like an asshole the whole time, and Todd calling out for his dead mother. It’s all meant to “shock” the audience like Family Guy and South Park were doing.

    One of the worst things happening here as the show is going along, is how Marge just goes along with all of Homer’s insanity. She’s always been his anchor, the one who kept him from veering too far off the road, but sometime during season 9 they just dropped the pretense of Marge giving a shit and had her go along with all of his bullshit.

    The best way to look at these episodes is as a series of interconnected skits. They’re really just a bunch of 5-10 minute skits that the writers smash together to create an episode. They’re no longer writing stories and developing characters, but rather just trying to cram as many “jokes” into an episode as they can. They sacrificed storytelling for comedy, and in the process lost the comedy as well, because the only thing that made it so funny in the first place was the fact that we cared about and related with the characters. Once they became caricatures who existed simply to tell jokes, it wasn’t funny anymore. Some of these lines might be funny on paper, but within the context of the show it doesn’t work.

    • The Simpsons trying to “keep up” with South Park or that stupid show with the baby is like Madonna kissing Britney Spears or doing the Super Bowl Halftime Show with Ceelo. It’s embarrassing. You were a huge deal when you came out, but haven’t been relevant for years. Call it a day

  3. Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

    All I can say is, don’t think that the Prisoner is crap because this episode is. It’s a genuinely great show and at least some of the unexplained stuff in the last act is, basically, them keeping up the tone of the original show, which I guess was a forerunner to Lost in that regard. This episode is absolute garbage, but the Prisoner shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

    Also, is this the episode where they got obsessed with Homer saying ‘bullplop’, like it’s an inherently funny word that holds up for about ten, twenty uses?

  4. “They’re with God now.” Haha!

    …Again, you can see how this characterization and lack of proper storytelling would lead future Simpsons into complete shit, but it’s kinda watchable here. I have noticed, when thinking of these episodes, that I can usually remember enjoying the first or second act or whatever, but not completely enjoying the episode as a whole. Compared to now when whole episodes are forgettable (I watched the last 3 seasons and can really only remember bits and pieces — I can only completely remember maybe 10 episodes all in all, usually because of insane things like “Ren and Stimpy guy couch gag” “Homer doing meth” “Simpsons puppets hit on Katy Perry boobs”). No matter what I want to say regarding the overall quality of the show, I’ve at least found some season 12 episodes rewatchable and memorable.

    I find Chris’s reply above really interesting and illuminating. I often forget Family Guy was on the air back in 2000, but I can see how it would possibly influence the Simpsons — didn’t some Simpsons writers/directors say on a commentary, for example, that they stopped using cutaways/flashbacks since that’s the main “comedic” device of Family Guy?

    One show Chris didn’t mention was Futurama. Though Groening’s overall role with the Simpsons has been questionable sometimes, is it a coincedence that the Simpsons became less and less enjoyable as Groening seemed to focus more on Futurama? Perhaps. I do know that HOMR — the last episode I really truely love — has Fry in the couch gag, which I always found kinda, for a lack of a better word, prophetic. Almost like he was there to pass the torch or something. “Watch Futurama, it’s better than the Simpsons now.” (though I think they both suck now. I seem to be alone in thinking Futurama is boring as hell now, though) Heh.

    ANYWAY. I think this episode is pretty funny, especially the quotes you’ve highlighted. The third act sucks, of course, but there are great moments. I like when you question the meaning of a scene or joke… So in response to “What is with the bit with Bart confessing to carrying switchblades, assaulting cops and getting suspended? And he says he’s “just mad all the time,” then the very next scene he’s happily getting himself some cookies and milk.” ……….. I thought this was hilarious. I remember seeing a Family Guy episode where Stewie bitches and says insane, troubling shit and no one (not even Brian!) responds to him. I kinda think this is a similiar joke. Bart’s obviously troubled and has a storyline but the episode isn’t interested in going into it, and the family basically ignores him. Funny and disturbing.

    • I actually just rewatched this episode thanks to this blog’s discussion of it. Maybe I’m, uh, anti-spoiled (?!) by some of the newer Simpsons seasons, but I was surprised how watchable it was. It was pretty funny and clever and entertaining. You know, not a classic or anything, but still better than most television. Eh. I also watched the next episode, though, where Marge gets drunk and there’s magic shit and it’s pretty embarassingly bad. Fish from the sky… cons.. surfing… yeah. What the fuck was THAT? Can’t wait for your review!

  5. I think this is an episode where if you got rid of the third act and reworked some of the jokes in the first two, this could have been a decent take on pseudo-journalism in the age of the Internet. I’m sure classic Simpsons would have come up with a good episode about that, but alas this is not classic Simpsons, so this is what we got.

  6. this is one of those episodes that i know full well is garbage, but it still holds a kind of charm to me. there were a LOT of shit moments here, most of which have already been mentioned, but there were some that were irresistible to me. for example, whenever possible i still quote “THAT. ARRANGED. CAN BE.”

  7. So I guess this is about when the episode titles start getting really bizarre and unwieldy?

  8. Homer’s notepad falling out of the vent, and Burns simply slotting it back, ‘This place is falling apart!’, was a good moment.
    Also, notice how Scraps the police dog was a bloodhound in this, but in another episode he is an alsatian type.

  9. Yeah, this is the first time I remember seeing an episode title and thinking.. wow, they’re really reaching for a movie title pun with this one aren’t they? Menace Shoes..?

    There was a bit a didn’t remember, or at least I don’t think I reacted so strongly to it the first time I saw this episode. It’s the scene with the Flanders boys both sick and shivering because Ned didn’t want to get them inoculated. I was thinking, meh, not a terribly funny joke but whatever. Then one of them reaches up and says, “Mommy?” Good. God. Not like Maude’s death was ever handled with any kind of weight or sensitivity, but the image of a child having a fever-induced vision of his dead mother played for a laugh? What the hell show am I watching?

  10. The transformation of Lenny and Carl into the not-particularly-ambiguously gay duo was awful. The were just co-workers who were kinda buds but didn’t particularly like each other (Carl, on getting paired up with Lenny: Ah, nuts!).

    Also, wasn’t Carl married?

  11. Jared DiCarlo

    I thought the fake Homer’s line about “efficient German sex” was kind of funny. Everything else about this episode can go die.

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