(originally aired February 25, 2001)
Ah, boy bands. What a wonderfully bizarre phenomenon that was; meticulously manufactured pretty boys with non-offensive ballads about “true love” to generate huge amounts of profit. It’s the kind of thing that seems parody-proof, because it didn’t take long before the genuine articles felt like parodies unto themselves. But being the new hip this, of course the series was going to take a stab at it, and of course they could get *NSYNC to do a guest spot. There’s plenty of this episode that makes no sense and is dumb, but I have to say I have a certain fondness towards it. It’s almost like they knew they had to put a ridiculous spin on it, and when shit goes off the rails in act three, it kind of feels wonderfully absurd, than just plain absurd. Same thing with *NSYNC; they’re unnecessary and crammed in the show in every respect, but when they show up with their little theme music at the end as they land their speedboat on the aircraft carrier out of fucking nowhere, I’m laughing. Sometimes you push things too far and they become hilarious. This is one of those times. Mostly.
Things start out randomly as Homer decides he’s going to run the Springfield Marathon, and it’s even more impromptu and head-scratching than you’d think. Bart pulls a “prank” by posing as a foreigner and cutting off the leads near the finish line and winning. He’s rescued from an angry mob by LT Smash, a record producer who thinks he’d be perfect for the new boy band he’s organizing, along with Nelson, Milhouse and Ralph. It’s not exactly clear why any of these boys want to be in the band, but I guess that doesn’t matter. The other three don’t even feel like themselves; they’re just thrown in the story because we need recognizable kids there. Boy band protocol usually calls for five members, but we only have four boy characters, so they’ll have to do. By the end when Nelson is commenting, “I can’t sing without dancing!” I’m wondering exactly who are these characters I’m watching. I’m not saying it couldn’t have worked with these kids, but perhaps injecting some of their actual personalities into the episode would have helped.
The episode’s saving grace comes from the twist. Lisa is suspect of the Party Posse’s new song and its eerie chorus, and comes to a shocking discovery. “Yvan eht nioj” is “Join the Navy;” LT Smash is revealed to be Lt. Smash, who is using the boys’ music to inject subliminal messages for naval recruitment. But when the navy aims to shut the program down on the eve of a scathing parody of the boy band by MAD Magazine, Smash goes insane and hijacks an aircraft carrier to New York, aiming to take down MAD. The subliminal messages angle is an interesting one to go involving the sinister motives behind boy bands, but it all becomes just so incredibly silly. But part of me really likes that; it’s going overboard to the greatest degree. It’s a different kind of silliness than jockey elves or the Prisoner island in that the naval plot makes some modicum of sense, and we can go along that Smash is simply a maniac because he never seemed all that all together from the moment we met him (“Who are you?” “You’ll find out in due time.” “Well, it says here your name is L. T. Smash.” “The time has come. I’m L. T. Smash.”) The characterization in this show is garbage, and there’s a lot of nonsense, but a fair amount of that nonsense is actually really entertaining to me for some reason. As much as I should, I don’t hate this episode. It’s one of the better ones this season, that’s for sure, and for an episode featuring *NSYNC, that’s saying something.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning is incredible confusing to me. The family is watching a TV program about great Olympic moments, causing Homer to impromptu announce that he’s going to run the local marathon. Never mind that we really didn’t need this at all, since the family could have just been watching the marathon for the plot to work. Then it’s as if he lost track of his own conversation, saying he’ll swap jobs with Marge and see who has it tougher, and storms out of the room. Marge and the kids exchange confused glances. So do I. What the fuck is happening? Does this man officially have brain damage?
– Like the quote on the marathon banner: “Ruin Your Knees for Charity.”
– Bart’s faux-Italian accent is a pretty cute bit, but then a bird takes off with his mustache and he’s revealed to be a fake. Not entirely sure why he wasn’t busted earlier, since I’m sure there was registration for this race, and also a whole bunch of people who would have seen him run in at the finish line, but whatever. Then, another problem. We see an angry mob is closing in on Bart on the town hall steps. Then L.T. Smash’s car pulls up in front, and we see from Bart’s POV that now all of a sudden the stairs are empty, and the mob is all on his level. Then when he jumps to the car and drives off, we see there’s people lining the sides of the stairs allowing him to get away. Who the fuck staged this scene? Did no one notice that it was sloppy and made no sense?
– The secret to the Party Posse’s sweet, sweet vocals? Studio magic. Or more accurately, a voice altering machine labeled ‘Studio Magic’ (“Thank you, NASA.”)
– Why would they perform at the school, where everybody knows who the kids are? It almost feels like a talent show, not the start of a superstar career. I do like Smash’s interplay with Skinner though (“Man, they’re gonna be big. And you stood in their way.” “No, I didn’t. I even came in early and made orange drink.” “Orange drink? What, do you live with your momma?” “She lives with me.“)
– I really do like *NSYNC’s appearance, I gotta say. It’s just so dumb, with Justin Timberlake repeatedly saying, “Word!” and the other guy constantly calling stuff “old school!” And their little dance in to their theme song, and at the very end where they show up out of fucking nowhere, and say, “We heard what you said!” Somehow, as they were randomly speeding around the bay. The dumbness of it all is staggering, but it’s hilarious nonetheless.
– The Party Posse’s songs are almost too good, since they basically sound like the real deal. The “Drop Da Bomb” video (directed by Ang Less) is pretty amazing, as the boys place up a flag pole a la the soldiers at Iwo Jima, but only to play volleyball with some fine Iraqi girls. And ‘Yvan eht nioj’ is brilliant, one of the last truly inspired and memorable things the series would have to offer.
– The dumbness continues with the reveal of Lt. Smash; first he’s got a navy tattoo, then a nearby fan blows open his shirt to reveal another one on his chest reading “I [Heart] the Navy,” then Lisa removes the period from Smash’s nameplate to make “L.T.” into “Lt. Smash.” It kind of goes a bit too long with his fake wig and pant legs, but it continues to be a great scene, with Smash’s superliminal messaging and informing Lisa that he can’t let her leave… except she already did.
– Homer childishly teases Lisa, to which he rebutts, “Cut it out! You’re a grown man!” I’ve screamed that at the screen many a time in the last few seasons…
– Smash is confirmed to be truly insane as he imagines the mindless Party Posse fans into future soldiers, fighting the hippie menace, striding atop a giant praying mantis sling shotting deadly flowers at their enemies.
– Marge and Lisa escape the aircraft carrier as Smash boats off and don’t seem to concerned about Bart. Also why the fuck did they have to leave Homer there? He proceeds to be a complete irritant in the background for the rest of the show.
– Like “The City of New York,” this episode was pulled from syndication for a while following 9/11. Perhaps the finale of a maniac blowing up a building in New York City is somewhat offensive in hindsight… but at least no one was hurt. I like the look at the MAD writer’s room (“Why don’t we call it ‘Everyone Hates Raymond’?” “Well, we stayed up all night, but it was worth it.”)