255. The Great Money Caper

(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.

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11 responses to “255. The Great Money Caper

  1. Oh yeah, Edward Norton IS in this episode. Weird. I seem to remember he was supposed to be in the Simpsons Movie, too, maybe he IS in a deleted scene. Anyone…?

    The saddest thing was this might be the first, but it won’t be the last, time they do a version of the always-horrible “it was all a charade by the police/FBI/whatever!” ending. They just did it again in that horrible grafitti episode from this past season. Ugh.

  2. SleekVigilantPuma

    Not seen this one, as I’d pretty much given up by this point.

    Doesn’t sound like I missed much.

  3. This episode is a guilty pleasure of mine. No, it’s not great, and it would be bottom of the barrel classic era material, but it’s a fun outing with some great jokes (“so she was made of chimps!”).

    And sorry but I love the ending. Otto’s hand gesture whilst saying “Surf’s up” is just hilarious and at least here they flat out admitted it made no sense. It was sorta tongue in cheek. Compare that to season 11 where jockey elves and numerous chase scenes were sincerely treated as legitimately fine endings. Here they know it’s shit, and for me that just makes it funny even though I know it makes little sense. I guess you could say, well, it’s still shit, and I guess that’s fair enough. But I only really look to Scully episodes for a cheap laugh, and his tenure never really tried that often to be that plot-driven, so personally I can deal with it. That said, if I had only seen the classic era before this episode, or was watching it in the ordered fashion like you, I would probably be a lot more annoyed at it.

    As for the fish falling from space…. it is very stupid but by this point I’m passed getting upset at that kind of shit. It just doesn’t bother me in this instance.

    • I’m not sure jockey elves and the like were treated with sincerity, what with Comic Book Guy wearing “worst episode ever” and them making points of the fact that they recycle plotlines, like already owning a horse and so on… still not the best episode ever but in retrospect they acknowledge their bullshit and the fact that nothing makes any sense quite a lot.

  4. I don’t remember anything funny about this episode. I just remember it making little sense from beginning to end. It was probably an omen, seeing as the woman who wrote this previously wrote for Full House.

    Interesting trivia: Robby Krieger from The Doors was supposed to cameo in this episode and he even had lines recorded and his scene animated, but it was cut because it felt “too shoehorned in.” Those are three words that describe most celebrity guest stars these days.

  5. The thing with the ending, is that I don’t think it’s so much an effort to excuse bad writing by pointing it out, so much as an attempt to create bad writing intentionally, and have it work ironically. Which it can, but the more you do it the less it works. And The Simpsons had already done it many times before, and done a way better job of it (“I’m hauling ass to Lollapalooza!”). It’s still laziness for them to go back to the idea time and time again, though, and I’m not saying the episode is any better than you say it is so much as that I think you’re misinterpreting the way it is bad.

    But eh, who cares?

  6. AdrenalinDragon

    They pretty much use the EXACT same ending in Season 13’s The Frying Game if I recall. Honestly, these type of episodes really piss me off.

  7. This reads like a really humourless and petulant diatribe. You take objection to the surrealism of the sturgeon thing? Did it ever strike you how fantastically funny it was?

    • Just because it’s surreal does not mean it’s funny.

      Even the raining frogs scene in Magnolia – to which the sturgeon thing is a reference, according to SNPP – is funnier.

      Also, Willie is supposed to have arthritis in his index fingers from playing too much Space Invaders – so he shouldn’t have been able to shoot Skinner. But, of course, the writers didn’t give a shit.

  8. The Anonymous Nobody

    Homer leaving Bart at the boardwalk was awful. Then again, I could say that for a lot of this episode. The twist ending made absolutely no sense and it’s like the writers were trying to get us to laugh at it because of how little sense it made. When things get way too absurd, the last thing you want is an ending like this. And then they shoot themselves in the foot with the pointless joke of Willie not knowing about the setup at all, which just makes me want to punch the screen.

  9. The writers really have a thing for chloroform over the past couple seasons. I don’t think it’s nearly as funny as they seem to.

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