(originally aired January 14, 2001)
A later season Marge episode with a zany Homer B-plot? A recipe for disaster if I ever heard one. Or… not. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one; it’s not perfect for sure, but it definitely stands out amongst the rest of the schlock this season. The idea of Marge’s unwavering belief in thinking the best of people being tested and biting her in the ass is sort of a neat thing to explore, and while this show didn’t delve into it as much as I’d hoped, it was still interesting to watch unfold. While attending a prison rodeo, Marge observes convict Jack Crowley (voiced by Michael Keaton), a gifted artist with a jail sentence apparently for the easily hand-waved act of shooting Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart. Inspired to help this man, she volunteers to teach art classes at the prison, and eventually vies to get Jack out on parole. She succeeds, but ends up having him put in her custody. She helps him get a job at the school to paint a pride mural, but Jack ends up butting heads with Skinner over his creative vision.
Unlike the last Marge show where they tried to make her insane for some goddamn reason, this one explores elements of her personality we are already familiar with. Her nurturing tendencies are placed unto another; she immediately sees Jack as wasted potential and wants to do what she can to get him on the right track. Meanwhile, while not the most interesting of characters, Jack is sort of this grizzled, soft-spoken guy who seems tough, but is mannered and speaks kind of gently. But through the whole show you can just sense there’s something wrong with him. He and Marge’s interplay is kind of neat to watch, where Marge is helpful but is still somewhat intimidated by this criminal, and Jack appears grateful for her but something seems to be bubbling beneath the surface. He’s pushed even further by Skinner, who forces him to whitewash his passionate mural in exchange for his poorly scribbled version, then blames him when his design is a bust. Ultimately, Jack is revealed to be a maniac when he burns Skinner’s car, and a pathological liar to boot. You basically see the twist ending coming by the end, but I still liked the ride there, so yeah.
There’s also the side story of Homer starting his own chiropractic business. Sounds awful right off the bat, but it actually was pretty amusing. Firstly, the groundwork is set from the start; Homer is seriously injured at the rodeo, which I like immediately because it actually shows a realistic outcome to the over-the-top violence that normally we don’t get, and it follows through on something introduced in the first act. Homer sees a chiropractor about his back, which will cost him a pretty penny, but then finds that when he accidentally falls backwards onto a turned over trash can, his back feels as good as new. So he makes a makeshift office in his garage, treating patients with his new “Spine-O-Cylinder” (patent pending). There’s not much to this story, it’s just a silly thing that’s going on in the background, which is usually good to have in a Marge episode. The chiropractors get angry with Homer and eventually steal and destroy his “invention.” Moe’s line “Forget it, Homer. It’s Chiro-town” alone makes the subplot worth the price of admission. So in all, not a bad episode at all. Any problems I had were pretty minor, and I enjoyed a fair amount of it. And it certainly took some of the awful taste of “Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge” out of my mouth. Maybe Marge can be salvaged after all.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I kind of wish we had seen the apron expo, but it works just as well as a joke the Simpsons are riding back from, where everyone had a good time except Marge, the one who wanted to go in the first place. Her complaint? Too many aprons.
– The prison warden is voiced by Charles Napier; I know him primarily as the voice of Ted Turner expy Duke Phillips from The Critic. He’s gone on to voiced a few other characters on this show, mostly all the same kind of character. At least one more warden for sure, in the episode where Bart goes to juvenile hall. But I love him, and his voice. R.I.P., Mr. Napier (“Maybe it’s the tear gas, or maybe this was the best damn prison rodeo ever.”)
– As one convict rides out, Bart yells at the bull, “Toss his salad!” Stop. With. The. Sex. Jokes. …please.
– I suppose Homer using his daughter as live bait to goad the bull into full speed should bother me more, but for some reason it doesn’t. Maybe I’ve just been desensitized. Or maybe it’s saved by Homer looking to tone the bull down with some “calming blue,” but is shocked to see Bart’s wearing an orange shirt, not blue. Bart attests he doesn’t own a blue shirt, referring to how a lot of Simpsons merchandise will have Bart’s shirt as blue, which always confused me as to why they made that change.
– I like this exchange between the warden and Homer. This is some good dumb Homer dialogue, which we see so little over nowadays (“He painted a unicorn in outer space. I’m asking you: What’s it breathin’?” “Air?” “Ain’t no air in space!” “There’s an air-in-space museum.”)
– Homer explains his back pain to Lisa (“Well, there’s a dull ache, certainly. And overlaid on that is a club sandwich of pain. Only instead of bacon, there’s agony. Marge, could I have a BLT?”)
– Marge telling Bart that Sideshow Bob says he’ll be seeing him real soon sends chills up my spine. Why foreshadow such a horrible episode…
– Like this line reading from Keaton as Jack is up for parole (“I’m sure your macaroons are scrumptious, Marge, but I’ve seen this warden turn down brownies… honest-to-goodness, brownies!”)
– Marge looks out the kitchen window and sees clear to the prison… then later she sees the school in the exact same spot. It’s not so much continuity I’m annoyed with as much as it is laziness. They could have come up with something else to remind Marge of the school or vice-versa with the prison, but were just like fuck it, we’ll just have them both out the window.
– Love Skinner’s criticism of Jack’s first pass at the mural, a bold painting of a female warrior riding a puma (“The shapely female form has no place in art!”)
– Bruce Vilanch appears for no reason not only attending the unveiling of a elementary school mural for a small nothing town, but I guess also wrote jokes for Skinner. It’s such a small scene and I don’t pay it much mind, but it is just a perfect example of how it doesn’t matter anymore why celebrities are appearing left and right. They’re just there, accept it, whatever, fuck you.
– Skinner rearranges the school lunch menu, in a manner similar to executives shifting their network TV schedules (“Pizza’s working well on Thursday, but I think the kids will follow it to Tuesday.” “That’s what you said about the stuffed peppers, and you lost the young males!”) Perhaps still present sour grapes about the show’s questionable move to Thursdays early in its run?
– Why would the new mural burn up to show the original one completely intact underneath? Aside from the fact that it makes no sense and is impossible, it doesn’t make sense for the scene to be there anyway. Nelson’s positive critique earlier implies it would have been a hit (“Finally, art that doesn’t suck!”), especially in comparison to Skinner’s lame drawing. So why need to reaffirm it? Ehh, but it’s nothing to get upset about. Small potatoes, really. Tater tots.