260. Tennis the Menace

(originally aired February 11, 2001)
Twenty minutes may seem like plenty of time to craft a meaningful story with a beginning and end, but it really isn’t. The writers in the past have talked about how precious every second was in keeping the story moving forward and building everything up to its rightful climax. A trend that would present itself in the later seasons is disjointed first acts, where the main story barely even kicks in until the start of act two. There’s nothing wrong with a slow burn start to a plot, but in some cases there would literally be no connection. This is one of those cases. Homer takes Grampa to look at cemetery plots and monuments, but concludes that they are far too expensive. The caretaker tries to sell him on their deluxe model, touting that it has as much concrete as a regulation tennis court. Cut to a court being put into the Simpson back yard. It’s such a ridiculous leap that at least they have the decency to comment on it (“I can’t believe we went through all that just to wind up with a tennis court.” “Bet you didn’t see that coming”) but it just makes me feel like I’ve just wasted my time. Grampa doesn’t appear for the entire rest of the episode; it’s like none of it matters.

A first act can also set up your characters for the main story, but here, the Simpsons are all of a sudden fairly competent at tennis, Marge for some reason cares about how well they play, and Homer takes it upon himself to be a court jester, like the other lovable sports clowns, which I guess is a thing that exists. There’s no real build-up or explanation for any of this, it’s just things that happen and we’re meant to accept. Whatever emotional content with Marge feeling embarrassed of being a laughing stock is sort of diminished in that we’ve really only been in this story for like three minutes. And me asking for emotional content from this episode is a big stretch; there’s mostly just gags here, and Homer acting like an absurd buffoon for reasons that escape me. When he refuses to take the game seriously, Bart fills in for him as Marge’s doubles partner for a local tournament, leaving Homer incredibly judgmental of his wife and son. He gets back at them by teaming up with Lisa, leaving the family divided.

The third act is really painful, where the entire Simpson family devolves into petty competitive children. There could have been a way to make this family strife work, but they’re just making infantile swipes at each other. This whole show is just so odd; it’s all about tennis, and never do any of the family members even seem to express any interest or enthusiasm about it. Homer has Bart fill in for him while he goes inside the house, and he seems to be playing somewhat competently like an adult. And when Lisa comes in, we haven’t even seen her play. The point is they’re getting all ruffled up about a game I’m not even certain they enjoy. The big tournament arrives and Homer is so desperate to win he subs his daughter with famed tennis star Venus Williams. Eventually this swap continues until all the Simpsons are switched out for professional athletes. This is some of the most pathetic stunt casting we’ve seen so far; not only is there no reason for these tennis stars to be here, they barely have any lines. The Williams sisters have a few, but Pete Sampras has like two, and Andre Agassi gets a check for only saying his name. And “Yoink!” Pathetic. Did I mention this episode is awful? I don’t know if I explicitly said so, but it is.

Tidbits and Quotes
– When an episode is particularly horrible, I take a quick listen to the audio commentary for curiosity’s sake. But like many in this era, I got no answers. During the abrupt first act ending where they’re building the tennis court, they have Phil Rosenthal do his line from the movie and talk about that for a few minutes. Do these guys get paid to do these? Though it can’t be much, I imagine they don’t do it for free.
– I never laughed at anything at the funeral home, but I did smirk at the different brands of anti-stink spray, and the on payroll weeping widow.
– I don’t know who to blame for this exactly, but a lot of the times we see the actual tennis game being played, it looks wrong, or we won’t hear the ball bounce when it goes over the court and then they hit it. Marge and Bart hit the ball back and forth to each other without it hitting the ground for a good twenty seconds, which there’s nothing wrong with, but seems kind of odd. More egregious is earlier when Homer misses a shot from Kent Brockman that clearly goes out, but then declares game, set and match to himself.
– This is probably going to be short since there’s not really many jokes here. I’m still confused as to why Homer becomes a buffoon on the court; none of his antics are funny in any way, and only serve to be aggravating. To me. Personally.
– The end of act two when Homer remains oblivious to the obvious that Bart is Marge’s partner is so painful to watch; I get what they were going for, but it was so unfunny and felt like padding. Then Homer rips the little puff balls off Marge’s shoes and throws them at the car, which smash the back window somehow.
– The exchange about the Krusty Klassic is one of the only great bits in the episode (“It’s for charity. It benefits victims of balcony collapse.” “We can wipe out BC in our lifetime.” “I don’t care about BC. I care about M.E.: My Enjoyment!”)
– The whole Oedipus thing is a little bit weird, but I feel like the episode would have been better suited in that direction, where Homer starts losing his mind thinking that his son is replacing him. I can’t be bothered to think of a climax for this story, but anything would have been better than what we have here.
– Homer is so fucking petty that he’s constructed crude devil-version cutouts of his wife and son for his daughter to practice smacking tennis balls at (“Aim straight at your mother’s heart!”) The whole runner of him trying to take down his family in act three is really disturbing; Homer was once the man who would do anything for his family, now they’re just people he lives with, and his opinion of them changes from week to week.
– I did genuinely like Krusty’s “raquet-earrings” joke, and his defense toward the audience’s non-reaction (“What do you want? I’m not going to do ‘A’ material for charity!”)
– As much as I hate almost all of this episode, I like Homer’s surmising of the moral at the end (“There’s a lesson here for all of us: It’s better to watch stuff than to do stuff.”)

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9 responses to “260. Tennis the Menace

  1. I had forgotten about the awful first act for this episode, the transition to main plot is even worse than the one in “Last Gun in the West” and saying that really hurt. I will admit I did laugh at the scene with Kent and Homer but afterwards I felt a bit ashamed for it.
    Also, isn’t that shower joke stolen from Bart vs Australia?

  2. “It’s such a ridiculous leap that at least they have the decency to comment on it (“I can’t believe we went through all that just to wind up with a tennis court.” “Bet you didn’t see that coming”) ”

    No. I mean, I’m sorry but every episode you review now features some wink at the camera about how the writers know this is shit, and by admitting it that makes it all better, and no, that does not make it all better. I’m tired of it. Instead of admitting what a shitty job you’re doing, write better episodes. They obviously know there’s a problem, here they know what the problem is (that the process of getting the tennis court was absurd), and yet they make no effort to correct it. Fucking lazy is what it is, and I’m not going to let them off the hook because they winked at the camera about it.

    • Oh, I absolutely agree. It doesn’t excuse it at all; saying they had decency by pointing out their shit writing was more facetious of me to say anyway.

      • And I’m sorry if it seemed like I was criticizing you for pointing this out, because I wasn’t. It just pisses me off that every episode you review now has some mention of how the writers know this is shit but go with it anyways. Pointing it out does not make it better. Admitting you did F-level work does not make it an A paper.

  3. Pretty meh … “M-E-H, MEH. … episode. It’s starting to not even resemble Simspons episodes at all anymore.

  4. This was the first episode where I knew that it wasn’t The Simpsons anymore. I feel like this may have been the first one that was digitally animated, and it showed. Everything was sterile, jokes and images alike. The moment Sideshow Mel appeared along with a bunch of random other characters to talk about Marge and Homer behind their backs was the last straw for me. Through the weird episodes, I at least found enjoyable moments. But this was the first episode I absolutely hated, because it let me know that the Simpsons I loved were never coming back.

  5. I always thought the bit where Kent Brockman accidentally says he’s from Iraq and Homer reacts in a really hostile way was pretty out of character, but maybe I just missed the point of the joke.

  6. To Mike and anyone else who hates the disjointed first acts, here’s a fun tidbit. In a couple of the DVD commentaries of the classic seasons, some of the writers (one of Al Jean, I believe) state that they love how the first act of current episodes has nothing to do with the plot. I guess the writers feel the first act of the show is their chance to do whatever random shit they want so long as they connect it to main plot in the last minute or so. Sad.

  7. With such a dumb plot, the episode could’ve been worse. That’s damning with faint praise, but it’s hardly the worst of the series.

    Favorite moments:

    * Bart messing with the hot and cold water, causing Homer to scream in various pitches.

    * The funeral home director’s reaction to Bart getting stuck in a coffin: (fondly) “Oh, the living.”

    * “Then what’s the one where the chicks whale on each other?” “Foxy boxing?” “YES! That’s what I WANTED!”

    * “Kent Brockman being fed witty lines in an earpiece.

    * Mr. Burns’s life-sized chess board (“Come back, fools! Protect me!”).

    * “I don’t know what’s sadder about the Simpsons: The fact that we mock them, or that they shall never know. Never, ever, ever…… EVER.”

    * “This is such a beautiful day; I don’t know why we don’t operate outside more often. (tennis ball falls into open wound) Time of death: 10:15. (trademark Hibbert laugh)”

    * “I care about M-E! My, enjoyment!”

    * “I’m not doing my A-material for charity!”

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