279. Half-Decent Proposal

(originally aired February 10, 2002)
Well hands down, this is the best episode we’ve seen all season, in that I didn’t want to claw my eyes out while watching it. Apart from its sloppy ending, it’s actually pretty decent, thanks in no small part to the great Jon Lovitz. They bring back an old character in a somewhat interesting way, and although they didn’t explore him as much as I’d hoped, I welcome this modern day Artie Ziff with open arms. Following the infamous incident involving his busy hands, Artie became the fifth richest man in America, with a company manufacturing a plethora of bizarre but useful doo-dads. But through it all, he still harbors a deep, somewhat insanely obsessive yearning for the one that got away: Marge. Sparked by an email sent by a tipsy Marge (and punched up by her devious sisters), Artie pays Marge a visit, only to find she’s buckled down with a husband and kids. He offers she and Homer an unorthodox proposition: a million dollars to spend a weekend with Marge. Marge is initially resistant, but in dire need of cash to get a surgery to eliminate Homer’s snoring, she accepts.

I’d be surprised if Lovitz did it consciously, but I can feel a difference between this Ziff and his past self from “The Way We Was.” Strangely it’s like an inverse of what you’d expect of a nerd: in high school he felt more cool and collected, but here he seems more awkward and desperate. This makes sense for each story point though: “Was” has Artie be the steady pining best friend that’s in Homer’s way, and here he’s a man who seems to have it all, but is still unsatisfied. His twenty-year-old obsession with Marge seems a bit over-the-top, but I still buy it, like people who spends years dwelling over mistakes they made in the past and can never get over them. He may be successful financially, but it will never make him truly happy if he doesn’t move on. And in the end, he doesn’t (“Now, Homer, if there’s one thing that you should’ve learned from all this… it’s that I’m rich, rich, rich!“) But that’s okay; he’s a small man with a big ego, and I love him for it.

Artie recreates their high school prom for Marge, but she of course is not won over. So he reverts to his old standard: trying to stick his tongue down her throat. Unfortunately Homer spies on this from afar, misconstrues it, and by the time Marge returns home, he’s gone. It’s here that the episode starts to get wacky. He enlists Lenny to leave home and never return, who immediately accepts, and the two end up on a dangerous oil rig in West Springfield. I’m for the ending where Marge enlists Ziff to save Homer, and Ziff assures him that he will never be able to buy his wife away from him, but it’s just way too silly and random that they’re on an oil rig up in flames. Lenny could care less where Homer drags him or even that he’s about to die; in the inferno he’s just standing there with a glazed look in his eyes. Bizarre. But for the large part, I found myself enjoying this one. Jon Lovitz is amazing as always, and it ties in with a classic episode while still standing on its own. For an episode this late into the series, that’s quite a feat.

Tidbits and Quotes
– All the snoring bits at the beginning are okay, nothing exceptional though. The only great thing is the paper Marge gets hit with when she resorts to sleeping out on the stoop (“Sleep important, study says.”)
– Nice Sex and the City parody, “Nookie in New York” (“It’s a cable show about four single women who act like gay men.”) and how Patty and Selma, like many women in America, so clearly identify with them (“This is so like our lives.” “It’s like they hid a camera in our apartment.”)
– No Jon Lovitz episode is complete without him singing, which we get twice here. First as part of his invention, a converter that changes the dial-up modem noise into easy-listening music. (“Hey, com-puter geek, you will be connected in no time.”) Then at the end as a wonderful conclusion to the snoring problem (“I traveled the worlds and the seven seas, I am watching you through a camera!”)
– Marge dictates her email to Artie, and Patty and Selma modify it accordingly (“Dear Artie…” “Dear Hottie…” “Congratulations on your recent TV appearance.” “I want to sex you up. Your love slave, Marge.”)
– I like Homer setting up the ground rules for the lost weekend (“Okay, Artie, you get her for the weekend, but no funny stuff. And by “funny stuff” I mean hand-holding, goo-goo eyes, misdirected woo, which is pretty much any John Woo film…”) Zing!
– Homer immediately becomes insecure about the illicit weekend at the bar, thinking Marge will definitely leave him for Artie (“I can’t get Artie out of my head. He’s like a spy in the House of Moe!”)
– I buy that the people of Springfield would pretend it’s the 70s for a thousand bucks. I mean, I would. And of course, Disco Stu is working pro bono. Also great is that Ziff also hired Principal Dondelinger (“You’re not on the guest list, Simpson. Orders of Prom King Ziff. And have you been drinking?” “Just for twenty-five years!”)
– The Baron VonKissalot cut-away… so incredibly bizarre. It feels like a Family Guy joke, I have no idea what it’s doing here.
– Another weird third act point is the further “development” of Lenny and Carl’s relationship; basically now they’re prospective gay lovers. Or maybe consummated, I don’t know. You don’t throw in stuff like Mount Carlmore without raising some questions (“I carved that one wonderful summer.” “What did Carl think?” “You know, we’ve never discussed it.”)
– The only bit I like on the oil rig is Homer’s aghast when the fire starts (“Oh no! This is how Faceless Joe lost his legs!”)

11 responses to “279. Half-Decent Proposal

  1. This episode is firmly in the middle of the road for me. Of course, Jon Lovitz does help to bring it up a fair bit, but there’s also a ton of stuff that doesn’t work. Again, Jean throwing in characters for no reason (the useless Comic Book Guy bit during the opening) and building to a maddening action sequence ending. And of course, the Lenny and Carl gay subtext, which has never been funny.

    Still, it’s really hard to misuse Jon Lovitz, as pretty much every line he touches turns to gold (“You can’t spell ‘party’ without ‘Artie’!…If you misspelled ‘party’. Or ‘Artie’…Uh, how ya doin’?”). But I do remember not particularly caring for Artie’s final appearance, “The Ziff Who Came To Dinner” in Season 15. I’ve only seen the episode once, on its original 2004 broadcast, so my memories are vague, but I do remember a couple of blatantly shoehorned instances of “Achum!” and an utterly pointless and wasted callback to all of Lovitz’s other characters. I’ll have to rewatch that one.

  2. “It’s my old boyfriend, Artie Ziff.”
    “Hello, Marge. Have you heard? I’m stinking rich.”
    “I’ll bet the writers will one day take this one-off joke and use it for an entire episode.”
    “…they will.”

  3. Homer fearing that Marge and Artie kissing at the prom would mean he would never have been born had me laughing uncontrollably during the entire commercial break when I first saw this. I didn’t realize it was a Back to the Future reference though. I probably would have not laughed as hard had I known at the time.

  4. “Lenny could care less where Homer drags him or even that he’s about to die; in the inferno he’s just standing there with a glazed look in his eyes. Bizarre.”
    Compare this to in “Marge on the Lam”, when Homer gets his arms caught in the vending machines, and Lenny and Carl run off shouting “He’s done for!” “Let’s get outta here!”. Lenny wouldn’t risk his neck for Homer!
    …I just laughed out loud thinking of that “Marge on the Lam” scene.
    I guess it’s too late and futile to be doing classing Simpsons comparisons. Good write up, this was one of the better later ones. I liked the scenes with Patty and Selma.

  5. Don’t really like this episode at all.

    “This is so like our lives.” “It’s like they hid a camera in our apartment.” … I think they used pretty much the same line while watching DINOSAURS once…

  6. I saw this one on TV recently and I really liked it a lot. I was surprised when I looked it up and saw it was from this late in the series.

  7. At the recreated prom:

    – Kirk and Luanne dancing together
    – Ned dancing without Maude

    I agree with you that it is plausible that some of Springfield’s residents would have come to the prom for $1k (Otto and Barney especially although I don’t remember seeing Barney), but wow…

  8. I was loving this episode until the 3rd act. Despite a couple amusing jokes, it just never quite worked for me. Still better than most stuff coming out at this point.

  9. I still don’t get the shot at John Woo. Anybody who has seen The Killer, Hard Boiled, Bullet in the Head, A Better Tomorrow, Red Cliff or even Face/Off will know that he’s an incredible director. Honestly with how the Simpsons will get from season 14 onwards the writers really have quite a nerve to insult one of the best directors ever like that.

    That said I like this episode a lot.

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