285. Weekend at Burnsie’s

(originally aired April 7, 2002)
While “Blame It On Lisa” got all the controversy, FOX executives were much more worried about this episode featuring Homer using medical marijuana. They were very dodgy at what they could and could not do, especially on the point that they couldn’t actually show Homer actually smoking, so I guess it wouldn’t be teaching kids exactly how to do it. The episode kind of talks about the benefits of medicinal weed and the legalization of the drug; there are several different interesting avenues this show could have gone down regarding this topic. Not that I’m expecting any meaty, serious discussion on the matter, just an comedic perspective on the issue. Or we could just have Homer become a stereotypical stoner and make jokes off of that. A big chunk of this episode is basically the most hacky hack material one could write for a stoner character, and it couldn’t feel more lazy. Add on a truly bizarre third act that serves only to make the parody title make sense and you get a very strange episode.

Following our first act wherein Homer gets his eyes viciously attacked by crows, Dr. Hibbert prescribes him medical marijuana to cure what ails him. After some brief hesitation, Homer eventually tokes up and spends the entire second act high as a kite, with his pupils doubled in size and a permanently glazed look in his eyes. What shenanigans does he get up to? Listening to Lisa’s saxophone for hours, laughing at everything, watching the Three Stooges in the attic with fellow pothead Otto, it’s the easiest material you can possibly come up with. And it all just feels so removed from Homer, I began to stop thinking him as himself for the second half of the act, which would have worked as the point if the rest of the episode was truly focused on him going cold turkey and sticking with it. Homer springs into action when anti-marijuana legislation threatens to harsh his mellow, so he arranges a pot rally. And he got Phish to play at the benefit! How? Doesn’t matter. But here’s the kicker. Turns out the vote for the proposition was the day before! They were so stoned they forgot what day it was! What a hilarious twist! Of all the hacky, pathetic shit this episode, hell, this season, this is the most uninspired comedic “twist” I’ve ever seen. The lack of originality is staggering.

So with pot banned, Homer is stuck living clean and sober, relenting to Marge in promising the kids he’ll never do drugs again. There’s a disheartening undercurrent here though, similar to “Jaws Wired Shut,” where people yearn for the status quo for reasons that even they can’t justify (Lisa comments, “I want the old Dad back, the one who was yelling all the time, and… you know, I’m not really sure what I want…”) He may have been dodgy and slightly off, but stoned Homer is a lot more bearable than wild, out-of-control regular Homer. But anyway, his penchant for laughing at everything got him promoted by Burns, who needs someone to yuck it up at all his zingers during his upcoming investor’s meeting. However, without dope, Homer is unable to laugh on cue, and unable to smoke the stuff, he has Smithers do it instead. But the two lose track of time while Burns is in the tub, and find the old man lifeless. And the investor’s meeting is in twenty minutes! What to do? Pull a Weekend at Bernie’s, and have Smithers work a super complicated marionette routine with Burns’ corpse, which for some reason works flawlessly, and revives Burns in the end. Even though it’s set up in act two, the ending is so jarringly out of place; it has nothing to do with Homer redeeming himself in any way. But, whatever, I should be used to this shit making no sense by now. So yeah, uninspired and clumsy, and for a show about such a risque topic, it sure did play it safe.

Tidbits and Quotes
– As if marijuana wasn’t enough, the beginning of the show takes on genetically modified foods. With the joke being that the food has become sentient. Not bad, but it’s a joke that takes three times the length as it really should.
– The Pop-Up video stuff with all of the old Simpsons artifacts is kind of clever. Not to be detrimental, but that’s as high praise as I can give it.
– Homer and the crows is kind of bizarre. The only thing I like is this exchange with Marge (“I’m very uncomfortable having a gang of crows in our bedroom.” “It’s a murder, honey. A group of crows is called a ‘murder‘”)
– We get a flashback to Homer’s traumatic experience with pot. Hiding a toke from the cops in his underwear, a police dog sniffs it and bites his groin, whipping him back and forth. Hysterical.
– I like Lisa commenting the smoked up house smells like the art teacher’s office.
– Homer is slightly cruel to Lisa making her play until the wee hours of the morning, but at least he’s paying her. Better than when he forced her to cut lemons for his garage bar that he didn’t even use. Again, I’d much rather have stoned Homer than insane regular Homer.
– We have more strangely out-of-character Burns in this show. He self-admittedly pissed away $60 million? On what? Why? He’s a responsible business mogul, how does that happen? And he’s so concerned about his jokes going over big, where’s the heartless, humorless miser? Burns is now almost adorable, where he was once a compelling antagonist.
– The only Homer stoner line I laughed at was this bit (“I got news for you! I just got promoted and it’s all thanks to Yes-I-Cannabis! …we have a kitchen?!”)
– Phish is basically another in the long list of expendable guest stars, but I do enjoy their music, so I got no beef with them. And I like the guy initially misreading “pothead” in introducing Homer on stage.
– The police start a marijuana bonfire after the banning, but inadvertently creates an alluring smoke. They dump some barber hair on top to mask it. At home, Homer bemoans the situation (“I could have smoked that pot! And worn that hair!”)
– The scene at Moe’s, the bit at the dinner table, it’s obvious that the writers really had no material for Homer going cold turkey, so I guess that’s why they fell back on the Burns thing. I guess it’s like Homer having to brave through a situation without using drugs… except not, because Smithers came up with the Burns dummy idea. And do I even need to comment on how the Burns dummy rig makes no sense and how no way in hell Smithers could pull that off? But as ridiculous as it was, I do like Homer very nonchalantly pushing Burns’ head behind the curtain and playing him off Elvis-style (“Mr. Burns has left the building!”)

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15 responses to “285. Weekend at Burnsie’s

  1. The Simpsons, during the classic seasons, parodied classic films like The Godfather and Citizen Kane. And who could forget the brilliant Psycho homage in Marge vs. Itchy & Scratchy? In this episode they decide to parody the classic film…Weekend at Bernie’s. Awesome.

    This show used to feel so organic in how everything happened and in everyone’s motivations. There aren’t many episodes from the classic seasons where I think, why would this character do that? It always seemed to make sense and feel right. But Homer smoking marijuana just doesn’t feel natural at all. When he steals illegal cable, it makes sense because he loves TV and he doesn’t have much money. But the only motivation here is completely dreamt-up by the writing staff (his eyes get attacked by crows), and that tells me the only reason they did this episode was so they could make stoner jokes. In other words, it’s not organic at all, but rather the writers forcing their voices into the characters. The original writing staff, and the ones that followed up until season 9, wrote brilliant television that worked in every way. From season 9 on, they wrote television that was hardly discernible from anything else on TV. You can get stoner jokes anywhere, but not just anywhere can you get brilliant media satire like Homer Badman.

    Yes, I’m aware I used the term “brilliant” numerous times, but The Simpsons deserved nothing short of that.

    • I agree completely. Though oddly enough, this episode did have a “Citizen Kane” reference, with the giant banner of Homer at the pro-pot rally.

    • I’m not sure I agree with “Homer smoking marijuana doesn’t feel natural at all”. Considering almost everyone ever has tried it. You have to start at some point. Hell, my grandpa started smoking it a few months ago — for his “eyes”, apparently, and funnily/coincedentally enough — and he had supposedly never done it his whole life. He’s 78. He smokes cigarettes since the age of 14 and has drank on and off his whole life, but he actually started growing pot plants this summer.

      Weekend at Bernie’s is kinda fun. Entertaining enough. I dunno if them referencing the title and having a one minute bit that recreates the concept of the film (which isn’t a bad concept at all) is truely a parody, but it works okay, I guess. What was with their David Foster Wallace title parody last season, btw?

      Anyway…From here on out, they continue to parody classic films, as well as some not so classic ones. It’s not like South Park or Family Guy where they reference movies that are just awful, like Human Centipede. Shrug. Actually, the Simpsons’ parodies of modern classics like Inception and Eternal Sunshine produced their best episodes of recent years.

      “…but that’s no reason we can’t dance, dance, dance the night away!”

      One thing I DO miss is their constant Woody Allen referencing. Woody Allen is up there with Kitano and Godard and Lumet and Cronenberg as someone who has created many, many classic films. Also, James Woods is my favorite actor, so seeing him show up and talk about True Believer (which I can’t find a torrent for… sucks) and his lil’ cameo in Chaplin was AWESOME. I “marked out” for that one. Besides just being funnier, the older Simpsons staff certainly had better tastes.

      Does anyone know what kinds of movies Groening likes? I know he likes some of the best music ever.. Beeheart, Zappa, Boredoms, and so on… he also likes great comic creators like Daniel Clowes… but other than that I’m not really sure what kinda stuff he’s into.. I’m curious.

      • There’s a classic-era episode (can’t remember which one off the top of my head) where Homer says, “far out man, haven’t seen a bong in years.” And honestly, I wasn’t comfortable with that either. I don’t view Homer as a stoner, I view him simply as a drunk. I realize the two aren’t mutally exclusive, but I feel like with Homer they are.

        I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen this episode or if I did I don’t remember it, but reading about how they had to get crows to attack Homer’s eyes to get him on marijuana tells me that this episode did not come from a place that’s organic within the character, but rather was just something the writers wanted to do. In my opinion, that’s not good writing. That’s putting the writer’s voices into the characters, which I don’t like. The show became notorious for this after season 8 or so. In season 2’s “8th Commandment” episode, Lisa says she won’t watch the illegal cable because she wants to go to heaven. By season 9 she’s questioning her faith, and then later she becomes a buddhist. It’s not good writing to me. To be fair to the writers, TV shows aren’t meant to last this long, so there’s no question you run out of ideas and “Homer smokes marijuana” is at least a fresh idea.

        There’s no accounting for taste. If you like this episode, and others like it, that’s your perogative. But I started to dislike the show around season 10 or so, and it’s in large part because the characters didn’t feel like themselves anymore. There are certainly worse examples of that than this episode (any jerkass Homer, for example), but my immediate thought upon reading the recap was how this was yet another example of unorganic storytelling.

  2. This is the first episode you’ve reviewed that I’ve never seen once, though I have watched episodes aired after this. Oddly enough, I don’t feel the urge to go and watch it.

    • It’s actually kinda funny, though. Good lines in it. I agree that marijuana humor is easy to do and has been done better elsewhere… and I’m not even a potsmoker… the episode falls apart at the end and feels kinda gimmicky in general… but it has more laughs than anything else this season, imo…

      • Also, I know you don’t like the “twist” of them losing, but I love how Homer signed the ballet to ban weed after listening to Flanders read the Bible. Signed it with peace symbols, all big and shiney. Phish pointing out Moleman as the most messed-up guy ever was great, as was “it’s called a ‘murder’, honey…” Also, I like how he somehow becomes more successful while stoned.. him coming home, Marge asking where he’s been, and he goes “Whoa whoa one question at a time!” … “otto is otto spelled backwards” “Now i’m scared.” … I dunno. There are some generic jokes here and there, and it hasn’t aged well — this was 10 years ago, afterall, and there are entire movies/shows based upon weed — but I don’t think it’s ALL obvious, beyond just the idea that getting your main character stoned doesn’t really leave any unexplored avenues in 2012. Yeah, it still might not have been the most clever/inspired stuff back then, but there’s great lines here, for real.

      • The humor’s subjective so I can’t argue that point, but even ten years ago, stoner humor was not new ground to break. Cheech and Chong’s entire careers revolved around weed, after all. It’s more accepted by mainstream comedy now, but the material in this show still feels stale and uninspired to me no matter when it was made.

      • One more thing, I’m glad you mentioned the pop-up video bit, which might be a headscratching reference to a lot of people nowadays, but was pretty cool and clever at the time. I always thought that “Who Shot Grampa’s Hat?” would have been an awesome episode!

  3. This was about the point in Season 13 where my faith in Al Jean was beginning to waver. The complete left turn in Act III just felt so alien and bizarre, and then the very end where Burns keeps slapping Homer, then Smithers, then himself, it all just felt like they weren’t trying anymore.

    Chris pretty much nailed another one of the huge problems with this era of the show – these characters are no longer behaving in a way that feels genuine. This sense of artificiality permeates the show to this day. Every single line spoken by the characters in current episodes feels false, like they’re just reading off a script so they can hurry up and get to the next contrived plot point. It’s pathetic.

  4. I do get a smile on my face when I hear Donovan’s ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’ because I immediately think of Homer bleeding rainbows. (Wow, that actually sounds funnier out of context than it does in.)

    • That scene is GREAT.

      Man, this is a great episode, for real. I re-watched it today. I know plenty of stoners love it but as I said above, I’m not a stoner and it’s a masterpiece. I’d put it in my top 100 of all time.

      …….

      And now there’s not a single episode I really like for about 5 seasons. Though I do like the big candy ball monster in Fat and Furriest.

  5. I remember this episode being shown after the UK 9pm watershed on its first run which was a little strange, and probably why it has hardly ever been repeated since Sky and Channel 4 rarely have The Simpsons on after 8pm.

    I have few fond memories of it, but I did lose it when Burns slips up in the air like a bar of soap.

  6. Chris, 28(!) months ago: “There’s a classic-era episode (can’t remember which one off the top of my head) where Homer says, “far out man, haven’t seen a bong in years.” And honestly, I wasn’t comfortable with that either.”

    That episode was “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”. Mr Amato said that he was “really surprised they could get away with showing a bong on TV, let alone Homer identifying it as such”. 😉

  7. Ugh, this one. Even my 17 year old self who was just discovering weed at the time was not amused. It was just “OMG LOOK AT HOW EDGY WE ARE” plus a bunch of easy, obvious jokes. Awful.

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