274. The Blunder Years

(originally aired December 9, 2001)
So here we have the last Scully produced episode, and thank fucking God. These last few episodes between the end of last season and the start of this one have been staggering; it’s like he saved the worst for last. This episode is of course no exception, as the show attempts to craft a foreshadowed and meaningful mystery, but fails miserably. But first, our completely unrelated opening: Marge develops a fascination with the strapping lumberjack mascot for Burly paper towels. And by fascination, I mean sick, insane obsession. I get that she’s a sad, lonely housewife and that’s the joke, but when she builds a Burly pyramid and writes a letter to “him” like he’s a real person, it just goes too far. Homer plays a prank on Marge, making her think “Burly” is coming to dinner, then to make up for his transgressions takes her to dinner and a show. At said show is magician Mesmerino, who hypnotizes Homer, triggering a repressed traumatic memory that leaves him unable to stop screaming. Castallenta sure earned his check this week.

Through a series of flashbacks, we find out what really happened to Homer in his youth. We see that he, Lenny, Carl and Moe were best buddies hiking and camping out in the woods. I’m immediately put off by this; I hate in shows or cartoons when they look back at their youth, everybody knows each other and acts exactly the same. Homer and Barney were high school chums, but there’s no reason why he should know the others. And then Fat Tony, Legs and Louie are there too. What? It’s just so uninteresting; why bother having a flashback at all when the character dynamics are exactly the same? It’s lazy more than anything. So what’s the big reveal? Homer unsticks the piping off the drained quarry, letting loose what was blocking it: a human corpse. That’s a fair enough resolution. Then the show becomes the Simpson Family Mysteries; apropos of nothing the family is all on board with going out to the quarry and figuring out what happened. Stilted dialogue abound! (“This sounds like a case that only the Simpson family can solve!”)

With assistance from Chief Wiggum, the Simpsons travel through the piping until they reach the end of the line. A hatch that leads directly to… Burns’ office. Which is multiple stories off the ground. Whatever. Then we get our explanation: the corpse was that of Waylon Smithers, Sr. He worked for Burns many years ago, and managed to keep the volatile reactor core from exploding, but at the cost of his own life. In the flashback, we see that Smithers is caring for little baby Waylon, Jr., who is given off to Burns when he goes into the core. I have the same problem with this as the other flashback stuff: Smithers’ father worked for Burns? Burns knew Smithers as a baby? No. That just makes his relationship with Burns weird and creepy. Why do all these characters need to be connected throughout their entire histories? I get that Springfield is a jerkwater burg where people tend to stay put for generations, but there’s bound to be change over the years of who you associate with. That the writers seem to not understand this or care to come up with new angles to present our characters in is very disheartening.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The only thing I like from the Burly “plot” is Homer’s fake name for the model portraying him: Chad Sexington.
– In the same vein as Hank Azaria’s then-girlfriend Helen Hunt having a guest role, here we have Harry Shearer’s wife Judith Owens. Though basically all they did was play one of her songs, they could have just ripped a CD. Or that’s probably what they did. But what the fuck’s Judith Owens doing performing in Springfield? And why is she the opening act for a hack like Mesmerino? Whatever.
– They try to lay groundwork at the show by having Smithers announce that his father died, but it’s completely unneeded and worthless. Before this, Mesmerino is incessantly heckling Mr. Burns and he just sits there and takes it. More neutered Burns! Did they just forget who this character is? Real Burns would have this man executed.
– Homer gets a flood of memories coming back, starting with the much repeated clip of his jump over Springfield Gorge. Lisa cuts in, “No, Dad, everyone’s sick of that memory.” Speak for yourself. I’d much rather be watching that episode than this slop.
– I’m not a stickler for continuity, but this bugged me a bit. Young Carl mentions that the power plant had just opened, meanwhile in “The Way We Was,” the guidance counselor tells teen Homer that the plant isn’t even open yet. It’s more organic in that episode too; I know we see the plant and the cooling towers ejecting fire, which is revealed later as Smithers, Sr.’s doing, but it kind of bothered me for some reason.
– The whole third act is so alien to me, it really feels like a completely different show. And hey, we have a Burly callback, where a few rolls of paper towels drain a fucking quarry. Fuck you, writers.
– As if the creepy Burns-Smithers back story wasn’t enough, we have another tired Smithers gay joke, where Burns says he told Smithers his father was killed by a tribe of savage Amazon women (“I hope it didn’t affect you in any way.” “We’ll never know, sir.”) This shit isn’t funny anymore; at this point just flat out say he’s gay, it’d be a lot more honest and open the door for some interesting stories. But nope, let’s just beat this horse until it’s a bloody corpse.
– Homer saves Smithers Sr.’s skull in a box, which is not creepy at all, and then we have Hank Azaria fumbling through an ad-lib over the credits. I couldn’t turn the episode off fast enough.

Quick announcement: after half a year, I’ve finally managed to start my DreamWorks blog, Desperately Dissecting Dreamworks, where I’ll be reviewing all of the films of the DreamWorks canon, similar to what I did in the past with the Disney films. I’ll be updating every week or so with a new movie. The link’s on the right if you care to check it out.

26 responses to “274. The Blunder Years

  1. the title of this episode perfectly describes mike scully’s tenure on the show though

  2. Beaten by bad episode.

    Another continuity problem here; back in “I Married Marge”, Burns lets in that he’s never been as impressed by someone’s ass-kissin’ since he met one Waylon Smithers. So obviously he never raised him. Aaah, Scully’s over at least…..Now to Jean.

  3. I remember watching this episode when it first aired and absolutely hating it. The bit with Homer constantly screaming over this repressed memory was so incredibly annoying that I can’t believe they left it in. It’s like no one bothered to say that, hey, maybe we don’t need 5 minutes of continuous screaming. At this point, the default setting for this show is to turn everything to 11 (cliched reference, don’t care, you get what I mean). Homer screams? Let’s do it for 5 minutes. Homer gets attacked by a badger? Let’s show his internal organs. These guys don’t know the meaning of the words “less is more.”



    • “The end of the episode originally had Chad Sexington showing up for his date with Marge, causing Homer to scream uncontrollably again;[4] however, it was cut in favor of Hank Azaria’s improvisation as Moe, which, according to Simpsons writer Carolyn Omine, was Azaria’s “favorite thing [he] had ever done” on The Simpsons.[5]”


  5. “Hank Azaria’s then-wife Rene Russo having a guest role”

    Actually it was Helen Hunt, and I think they were only dating when that episode came out.

    Yeah, this episode is garbage, and Homer’s screaming is all anybody ever remembers. I also hate how they wasted a legend like Paul Newman, but his one line is probably funnier than about 90 percent of everything else in this episode. (“Homer, I’m just going to tell you what I told Redford: not going to happen.”)



  7. SleekVigilantPuma

    “Chad Sexington” was funny.

    Not ‘endure 22 minutes of this shit’ funny though.

  8. I remember thinking at the time this aired that this was the single worst episode of The Simpsons I’d ever seen in my life. You really have to try to be this bad. I’d almost swear Mike Scully deliberately poured all of the fans’ least favorite aspects of his tenure as showrunner into his final episode just to piss everyone off. I wouldn’t put it past him – it’s blatantly obvious from his DVD commentaries that he hates us all.

    • The Parent Rap was actually the final show of the production season, but that one is just as awful.

    • Evidence that Scully hates the viewers? I didn’t get any sense of disdain from him in the commentaries. Now certain -writers-, on the other hand…

      • There’s always this air of superiority that he gets whenever he talks about the fans of the show. Like in the commentary for “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds”, where they mention that there’s apparently 26 puppies in one shot instead of 25, according to somebody on the Internet, and Scully says “Now what kind of person would freeze-frame and actually count all those puppies?”, in a tone that just screams “These people have no lives and I’m so much better than them.” Pisses me off.

  9. Terrible episode, but I did like the line “I just logged onto the internet.” I still use that one

  10. Grusome pic I wish you never used it 😦 and this is just the start of the heap o’ shit of having EVERYONE KNOW EVERYONE AT ONE POINT flashback eps. 😦 😦

    • “Gru(e)some pic I wish you never used it”

      Well, he *did* have to use one image from this episode… and it happened to be the only image that anybody ever remembers. 😉

      And IMHO, it really isn’t all *that* gruesome. It’s certainly nowhere near as gruesome as the computer animation of Lisa’s tooth growth in “Last Exit to Springfield”, or Homer’s face melting in “Brother from the Same Planet”…

  11. AdrenalinDragon

    Best episode in Season 13 easily! Great job, Mike Scully!

  12. This episode is so terrible:
    * Jerkass Homer. He’s just downright cruel to Marge with the Chad Sexington storyline.
    * Annoying screams
    * I too hate the “OH LOOK EVERYONE GREW UP TOGETHER” no the fuck they didn’t. Fat Tony is pretty obviously older than the other adults, same with Moe the Bartender.
    * How the everlasting FUCK did Waylon Sr. work at the nuclear plant? When Homer was little, no less? Previous continuity established that the plant opened right after Homer got out of high school. I know the writers don’t give a fuck about continuity, but come the hell on.
    * You’re wrong, classic-era Mr. Burns would not have had Mesmerino executed. He’d have ordered David Copperfield to be killed. (or the Rolling Stones)
    * “Have you heard of this internet thing? It’s this inner netting…” No, fuck you, this joke is so fucking bad.
    * I really REALLY hate Moe With A Heart Of Gold. He’s supposed to be an unlikeable scumbag sleazeball, not some kid that saves everyone heroically.
    * And like you say, this is neutered Burns. Whatever happened to the Burns of old who would crush you like this paper cup? Hell, I still use his classic line “You’ve made a powerful enemy today, my friend.”
    * The only line I really like from this episode. “Oh, did I say corpse hatch? I meant…. innocence tube.”
    * “I remember when I tried to jump over Springfield Gorge” “No, dad, everyone’s sick of that memory.” No, we’re not. Showing the clip just makes us miss good storytelling.

    Just such a terrible episode, and a good example of everything wrong with the show during this era.

  13. – “Homer gets a flood of memories coming back, starting with the much repeated clip of his jump over Springfield Gorge. Lisa cuts in, “No, Dad, everyone’s sick of that memory.” Speak for yourself. I’d much rather be watching that episode than this slop.”
    I can’t help but think this is the writers insulting classic Simpsons fans.

    I’d love to say a final good bye to Scully, but doesn’t he still stick around as a writer/producer? At least his tenure as show runner is over.

    • He writes, and runs, “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation”.

      Then he leaves – only to return a few years later for the movie.

  14. According to the DVD commentary, the reason the “Bart the Daredevil” clip was so short is because they didn’t want viewers to think this was another lame clip show and shut the TV off. So they deliberately kept it short. Personally I don’t mind the line; I didn’t interpret it as “that classic episode sucks”, but more that the “Homer jumps Springfield Gorge” clip was used repeatedly in the first clip show. Another way to look at it: Everyone has those family stories that are told so many times you’re sick of hearing them- it’s the same case here.

  15. Awful episode for all the reasons mentioned above. One quick point to as:

    I’m not a stickler for continuity, but this bugged me a bit. Young Carl mentions that the power plant had just opened, meanwhile in “The Way We Was,” the guidance counselor tells teen Homer that the plant isn’t even open yet. It’s more organic in that episode too; I know we see the plant and the cooling towers ejecting fire, which is revealed later as Smithers, Sr.’s doing, but it kind of bothered me for some reason.

    Also, Lenny to Grimey: Yeah, Carl and I have our Master’s. Homer just showed up the day they opened the plant, and they gave him a job.

  16. The Burly stuff was much funnier than the rest of the episode, and that’s pretty damn sad since it’s so lame.

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