(originally aired April 1, 2001)
Travel episodes are normally best when they have a character-driven story behind them. “Bart vs. Australia” saw Bart’s prank as the epicenter of strife in American-Australian relations, “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” had Lisa go to the capitol for her award-winning essay on American, only to have her faith tainted by corrupt politicians, these episodes have some heft to them because they directly involve the family. But even if your show is just a series of culture-clash set pieces, that has a chance of working as well; that’s about all that “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” was, and that was a pretty good show. But this episode is pretty much DOA from the start: a ridiculously stupid lead-in brings our family to Africa, which is one nonsensical gag and plot turn after another. Absolutely none of the Africa material works; since very few of the viewers know much about how the continent really is (myself included), they just made it over-the-top silly and inflated stereotypes, except none of it is funny and it all sucks.
So here’s how we get to Africa: a bag boy strike causes a near-famine in Springfield. That’s the kind of gag that maybe works when you’re joking around in the writer’s room, but in execution just feels so completely ridiculous. What about the Kwik-E-Mart? Or a gas station? There’s a myriad of places that you can find food. It’s just the right kind of illogical nonsense to get you in the mood for this episode. Santa’s Little Helper uncovers an old box of animal crackers, which contains a solid gold piece, as part of a contest where the winner is sent to Africa. Once the Simpsons are there, as I mentioned, it’s just one dumb impossible gag after another: rhinos hatching from eggs, gigantic spiders, bees being used as blowing darts, hippos being afraid of water, Bart getting a lip disc… I could just keep going. Even worse is how clear it was that the writers put some of those jokes in to fuck with the viewers; through most of the episode Lisa acts as kind of a narrator, giving out exposition and actively commenting on things not making sense (“Wait, rhinos don’t come from eggs.” “What did you just see, Lisa?”) I have no problem with writers wanting to fuck with fans once and a while, but it’s usually best if your show is actually good.
So the family ends up getting hopelessly lost and stumble upon the reserve of famed chimp researcher Dr. Bushwell, obviously a parody of Jane Goodall. Her compound is being threatened of being ambushed by poachers, but those “attackers” are revealed to be from Greenpeace. Turns out Bushwell had put her animals into slavery, working in a diamond mine below her home. An woman off the edge, she desperately offers everyone diamonds to hush up… and they take them. And then that’s the end. I suppose there’s some kind of story there, but it’s in the third act and had no set-up and something I could really care less about. I feel I can’t comment at what point this show went off the rails because it was pretty much awful at the start, and never let up. That the writers seem so pleased with themselves and their work that they feel they can directly say fuck you to their viewers is pretty ballsy, especially given the episode they’re doing it in. I guess you could say they’re underachievers… and proud of it? …seriously, fuck this episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The stupid jokes start almost immediately as we see Maggie has gone to the emergency room for swallowing an entire fucking magazine. An odd thing is the first time we see the X-ray, the title of the magazine is digitally blurred, which I thought maybe there was a title there and then they found out they didn’t have permission to use it and couldn’t reanimate. Then in the next shot you can clearly see it’s Time. Hmn.
– Homer incessantly pokes the bag boy with a baguette (“Hurry up! I can’t stand here jabbing you all day.” “Ow! Stop. Bag boys have feelings, too, you know.” “No, you don’t.”) Yep, that’s our lovable protagonist! It’s to the point that even the exasperated supermarket manager addresses him by name and asks him to leave, implying numerous instances in the past of him being an insufferable ass.
– I guess the whole bag boy strike leading to famine thing is supposed to be absurdist, but I just wasn’t buying it. Why couldn’t Lenny have put all his shit in a bag? And why were the striking bag boys allowed on the roof of the supermarket they’re protesting?
– When Homer is frantically looking through cabinets, we see Bart standing with the rest of the family. Then four seconds later, we see him out the back window with a bird’s nest. Guess he just teleported or something.
– The only thing I like in this episode is how they get to Africa. The animal crackers are so old that the company that made them doesn’t even make crackers anymore (“We make household poisons and Christmas lights.”) They’re about to throw Homer out on his ass until the string of the box the executive is holding snaps and accidentally swings into Homer’s eye (“He could sue us.” This defective string…” “Yeah, it’s got very sharp corners.”) The execs do damage control and agree to send them all to Africa.
– I know this has been present for the last few seasons, but it really bugged me here, that I’m really kind of sick of Tress MacNeille voiced every single woman character. The old waitress, the female executive, the flight attendant, Dr. Bushwell… it’s all basically the same voice every time. Now, Tress is definitely very talented, and has done great work with many characters, like Agnes Skinner, the Crazy Cat Lady, Mom on Futurama, but some variety would be nice. With male incidentals, we have Castallaneta, Azaria and Shearer in rotation, so why not bring in at least one other female actress? Pamela Hayden could come and do some stuff, or Russi Taylor, or hell, just a woman from the office to deliver a few lines. Just so it’s not all Tress, all the time.
– The scene leading up to the warthog reveal is so drawn out, way too much time wasted for such a small gag. And you know it’s coming because Lisa’s hair is being pulled out of frame, you’re just waiting and waiting until the payoff so they can move on.
– Homer is really nonplussed about any of the danger going on in the third act, he’s just this mindless cartoon character spouting stupid jokes. He even brings up the bagboy strike from the first act, which then later appears as a dedication at the end of the show, more of the writers acknowledging their shit makes no sense.
– The family ends up going down Victoria Falls, which is in Zimbabwe, nowhere near Tanzania. It could have just been a random giant waterfall, why did it have to be named at a location nowhere near where they were? We see them falling straight down the water, then near the bottom we see they land in a gigantic flower a fair distance from the falls. Totally unharmed. Just landed comfortably in a giant fucking flower. Which then proceeds to “eat” them, and then Homer just pushes his way out. These are the jokes, people.
– So the Simpsons are rich now, right? You can’t just end your episode with them carrying armfuls of diamonds and just do a reset. This isn’t that kind of cartoon. At least it used to not be…