(originally aired March 4, 2001)
I can’t tell how much this show has gotten me numb now. Here’s an episode that has very few of the glaring issues of these later seasons, and even a fair share of admirable ideas and scenes, but as a whole, it didn’t do much for me, and I’m having a little trouble pinpointing why. Maybe there were too many silly elements in what was really a more realistic down-to-earth story. Maybe it’s another show that took way too long to get into the meat of the plot. But whatever it was, something kept this episode from getting beyond anything from a slightly affable “meh.” A word this show spearheaded. We open with a family trip to Blockoland, legally distinguishable from LEGO. When Homer confronts a shopkeep who sold Lisa a playset with a missing piece, he develops a newfound passion for standing up for the downtrodden. There’s one or two smirk-worthy moments, but this is the whole first act, and in terms of the main story, is wholly disposable, time wasted that could have been better spent in getting us to the point quicker.
In attempting to get a season ticket refund for Lenny, Homer discovers a terrible secret at the ballpark: the Springfield Isotopes’ new owner at the Duff corporation is planning on moving the team to Alburquerque. I think my favorite part of the show is Stacey Keach as Henry K. Duff VIII; he gives a funny and intersting vocal performance, trying all he can to discredit the man in the way of his goals. No one will take Homer’s word over Duff’s, so he vows to go on a hungry strike to get them to fess up. Now, of course, Homer must be absolutely dedicated to do something this drastic, and we believe his motives for doing this (“I don’t mind being called a liar when I’m lying, or about to lie, or just finished lying… but not when I’m telling the truth!”) He’s an earnest guy trying to do what’s right in his own stupid way; it’s almost a return to form of classic Homer, certainly a refreshing change from the moronic jackass we’ve been watching these last few seasons. For the first time in a while, I’m rooting for Homer to succeed, and when he finally is exposed as right in the end, we’re as happy as he is with the big finale.
Yet even with all of that, there’s still something that’s keeping me from loving this show. There’s a lot of silly moments throughout connected to the main story that I’m kind of conflicted about. Like the big “PRIVATE” room that has all of the Albuquerque Isotopes merchandise and insignias properly displayed… it kind of felt a bit much, but then I laughed later when Homer opens the door for reporters and reveals a guy playing the “wah-waaaaahhh” on the trombone. But what annoyed me most was the ending; I buy Homer identifying the southwestern ingredients on the new hot dog and that being the catalyst for the reveal. I buy Duff wanting to test his new product out and knowing the dummies of Springfield wouldn’t make the connection. But that they have the hot dog wrappers say ‘Alburquerque Isotopes’ on them… really? No one noticed this? They had to cap off Homer’s triumphant moment with that unbelievably dumb reveal. So, yeah, as unusually iffy as I am with this episode, I definitely place it in the better ones this season. Homer’s admirable behavior alone makes it notable amongst a season of him being an insufferable ass.
Tidbits and Quotes
– While I swear it’s been said on the show before, this episode gave us the formal introduction to “meh.” Very notable.
– BlockoLand has a few cute moments; the square wheels on the tram, the girl bumping down the block slide, Marge thinking “Squaresville” sounds cool, and security escorting Nelson out after winning Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots. The only jerky Homer thing here is him repeatedly splashing Lisa with blue blocks that make up the water in the boat ride, which he then manages to sink in somehow. But that gag is saved by the Blocko leeches.
– What’s with the snowglobe Homer’s got with his face on it? It’s a really misfired gag, in my opinion.
– I’ll say that there were two gags here that I was expecting to go one way and stay there that they actually pushed one step further, which I really appreciate. Homer vows to stick up for the little guy, then notices cops beating down Snake in the road. He revs his car up and scatters the police away. I thought they would leave it at that, but they then reveal the cops were beating out Snake’s shirt fire (“My heart was in the right place, jerk!”) In a later scene, Duff calls in for a special brew of Duff which you’d think would erase Homer’s memory. Then Duffman injects him in the arm and he passes out, leaving Duff to his tasty beverage (“Man, that’s malty. But he’ll never know!”)
– The first act is really a blight on this show. First we have Homer masquerading as a kid at the school that no one calls out and is never explained. Then later we have a servicable gag where Homer cross-checks the funds at Marge’s salon to see that they would be ruined if they honored her coupon. Then it’s coupled with Homer giving advice on how to lighten one’s loafers (a slightly questionable gag in and of itself) out of nowhere (“You get the same results with a mincing gel!”) These two scenes are precursors to horrible bullshit to come, where characters will just show up wherever, or say whatever, for whatever the scene or joke calls for, regardless if it makes sense for that specific character. Care used to be put into every scene in this show; now I can’t chart this fumbling up to anything but laziness.
– Duffman is great in this show as Duff’s lackey (“Joel Duffman, ‘The Newsly Times.’ What’s with the smear campaign against this beloved brewer? And weren’t you once in a loony bin? Oh yeah!”) His line toward the end is bonafide classic (“New feelings are brewing in Duffman! What would Jesus do?”)
– Nice gag with the discomforting omen of the other poor soul who protested against the stadium owners: a skeleton shackled to a pole similar to Homer’s with a sign reading “Clean the Ladies’ Room.”
– We see Skinner and Krabappel on a date; Krabappel assures the ice crem cone Skinner bought her will go straight to her thighs, and Skinner retorts that that won’t be the only thing. Not only is this too shrewd a line for a lameduck like Skinner, but really, this is twice this season we’ve had an awful sexual inneuendo coming from this guy. It’s a little bit disconcerting.
– I really like the plot turn of Duff having Homer transported to the outfield, and touting him as an Isotopes superfan, negating Homer’s entire platform. His callous attitude toward Marge regarding her husband’s well-being is great too (“We won’t let any harm come to your husband, Mrs. Simpson. He’s fine.” “He’s not moving!” “He’s probably resting from all the moving he did before you got here. He’ll start moving in a second; I’m sure of it.”)
– I criticized this show for being too silly at parts, but I still like the very end in Alburquerque. It still could have worked with the other silliness taken out, our sincere earned ending capped off with a final bit of craziness (“Dang! That town’s got too much spirit. Looks like we’ll have to steal some other baseball team. See what Dallas wants for the Cowboys.” “Uh, that’s a football team, sir.” “They’ll play what I tell ’em to play… for I am the Mayor of Albuquerque!”)