(originally aired December 10, 2000)
I’ve unfortunately begun to lower my expectations for shows at this point. All I ask is a few simple things: that the story mostly makes sense from beginning to end, characterization is stable, and that it’s consistently amusing. This one would have been somewhat safe had it not been for the terrible way it started and the terrible way it ended, almost like bullshit bookends. On their way home from a magic show, the Simpson car is struck by a sturgeon that plummeted from the sky. We see it fell off the dinner plate of orbiting cosmonauts. To repair the car will run a hefty sum, and that’s what drives Homer and Bart to become grifters. Now, the spark of this story is that Homer needs cash after a freak accident, which really could have been anything. Absolutely anything. The list of normal, believable things that could have happened is endless. You can even add onto that a whole bunch of other improbable, even near impossible things that could happen on this planet. But instead we have a giant fish falling from space. Forget that it would have incinerated in the atmosphere, but the force it must have been falling at would have virtually obliterated whatever it landed on. And then we see the cosmonauts in their station with the fucking cabin door open. Part of me feels like a big moaner for this, but honestly, all I ask is for this stuff to make a little sense. Don’t give me shit like this, writers, please.
Homer and Bart as con men is not the most honorable of plots for these two, but at least I somewhat buy it. And the absolutely improbable cause of their money woes almost even helps their justification of bilking people for cash to pay off the car. Most of their cons and the scenes connecting them garnered more smirks than actual laughs, but I found myself enjoying it at least a little bit. Then things start winding into our third act. One last big score turns into disaster as the two are caught by an FBI agent, who soon reveals that he’s a fellow con man and makes off with Homer’s car and his cash. To cover, Homer claims he was carjacked by a mysterious, shady character. A police hunt tracks down mysterious, shady character Willie, and he is put on trial. Bart urges his father to tell the truth, but he wants to see how everything will play out. Willie is sentenced to ten years in jail, and proceeds to go mental, grabbing Wiggum’s gun and taking a shot at Skinner. It’s at that point that Homer comes clean about his charade. Then it turns out that everybody in the entire town, plus the fake FBI agent, was all in on it, all stopping their lives on a dime to teach Homer and Bart a lesson. Lisa has an explanation, but is cut off so everyone can go surfing.
This ending… I had to write it out in its entirety because there are so many things… so many things wrong with it. First, who organized this plan? I’m supposing it’s Marge and Lisa, but we never saw a scene that showed that knew what Homer and Bart were up to. Next, they would have no idea how Homer would describe the alleged car thief; it just so happened to match with Willie. He could have said anything, but I guess they could have just picked out the Springfield resident that closely matched his description. But then later it’s revealed in a joke that Willie was not involved, so that makes no fucking sense at all. Then we have Homer drawing out his confession until a man is shot and presumably killed; had this not been an act, he would have been inadvertently responsible for Skinner’s death. Then we have the interrupted explanation, which is basically the writers unzipping their pants and pissing in our faces. They know that we know that they could have written a logical ending, and an explanation that made sense. Maybe they think they’re oh-so clever pointing out how they wrote themselves into a corner and couldn’t come up with a satisfying ending, and that by acknowledging it will absolve themselves. Well it doesn’t. It absolutely fucking doesn’t. It just further points out how this episode was bullshit. I actually think this third act is even worse than “Menace Shoes;” at least there it was wacky and impossible from the very start. Here they make you think it’s going somewhere, then they pull the rug out from under the viewers and tell them to fuck themselves. Class act, guys.
Tidbits and Quotes
– We have Homer grow a magic pocket in his shirt to put his keys in, which we’ve seen before, but then the next scene we see he has a buttoned shirt on so they can do the beer gut gag. One clothing modification is fine, but two in a row is slightly pushing it. A bit nit-picky, yeah, but it’s just something I noticed.
– I actually really liked drunk Marge (“I’ll do it! I always end up doing it!”) and her interplay with the magician. The monkeys wearing Marge dresses and pearls make as much sense as the ending, but they’re just a quick dumb gag and I was amused regardless. And how can you not love a magic finale involving someone emerging from a giant prop banana?
– Truly heartless moment of Homer deserting Bart at the boardwalk. Even though he constantly strangles him, I just don’t see him doing that.
– I was slightly bothered that Marge acted so blase about the mischief her husband and son was up to (“Should I just back out of the room?” “Would you?”) until I realized that she was still drunk. Makes sense to me.
– More heartless Homer as he tries to con Flanders by means of a gilded Bible that his dead wife allegedly ordered. Pretty sick stuff.
– It’s such a nothing role, but I think Edward Norton gave it his all as the fake agent. He even gets to adapt two phony voices, one as the old man disguise, and as the actor Devon Bradley (“Character actor, dancer, singer… I’m a triple threat!”)
– The sad part is is that there’s a lot of pretty good jokes in the third act: Homer chloroforming himself to escape his snowballing lies, and his time at the stand (“I told you, my memory is fuzzy!” “Fuzzy like Willie’s beard?!” “Yes, exactly! No, no, I mean, the whole incident is hazy.” “Hazy like the moors of Scotland?!”) Then again, why didn’t Homer just plainly say that he’s sure Willie was not the man he saw, or claim he had another distinguishing characteristic? Perhaps he was too dim to think of it. But anyway, the point is that there were some amusing bits and some effective building tension that is completely squandered by the cop-out ending to end all cop-out endings. There definitely needed to be a twist beyond Homer and Bart simply learning a lesson for sure, but anything, anything would have been better than the ending we have here.